On September 28th, 2016, the United Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) into law. In doing so, Congress overrode the veto of then-President Barack Obama. JASTA is designed to narrow the scope of sovereign immunity in order to allow for civil claims against foreign states and their related entities for injuries, fatalities, and property damage that was caused by international terrorism.
This controversial bill has been the subject of considerable confusion and vigorous complaints by some foreign governments. At The Dearie Law Firm, P.C., our New York City attorneys have extensive experience representing victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks in 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund claims. Here, we provide an overview of the most important things that victims of terrorism need to know about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
What is JASTA?
To understand JASTA, one must first understand the general legal doctrine of foreign sovereign immunity. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) — which is consistent with international law — establishes considerable limitations on when foreign governments and any related entities can be sued in state or federal American courts
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) amends the FSIA to allow for victims of international terrorism and their family members to file civil lawsuits against foreign states and related entities in certain circumstances.
Understanding the Legislative History of JASTA
In passing JASTA, advocates and supporters of the bill wanted to give victims of terrorism a legal remedy against alleged state sponsors who helped to facilitate horrible acts of international terrorism.
This bill is often linked to Saudi Arabia — and while it certainly does give 9/11 victims a potential legal remedy against that country, the legislation was not written with direct reference to Saudi Arabia or to any other specific foreign state. The language in the bill is neutral. It could be used to allow terrorism victims to file lawsuits against any implicated foreign state.
Ultimately, President Obama vetoed the bill on the grounds that the legislation, as drafted, would put American officials in legal jeopardy — worries were raised about possible retention by other governments. Though President Obama expressed sympathy with victims and their families, he stated in his official veto message that “JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity”.
However, the president’s veto was overridden by large margins in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Within days of the veto, JASTA became U.S. law. — thereby opening up the door to international terrorism-related lawsuits against previously immune foreign states.
Currently, there is a major class action lawsuit currently pending against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its alleged provision of material support and resources to Al Qaeda. Plaintiffs contend that this support helped to facilitate the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In March, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York allowed this lawsuit to move forward.
Four Key Things You Need to Know About JASTA Lawsuits
- JASTA Eliminates the General ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ Requirement
Prior to the passage of JASTA, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) prevented foreign states and their instrumentalities from being sued in American courts related to an act of international terrorism unless that state was officially designated as a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ by the U.S. Department of State. As of 2018, only four countries are on this list: Syria, Sudan, Iran, and North Korea. JASTA narrowed the immunity provided to foreign states by removing the ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ requirement. With JASTA in place, any foreign state can be sued in an American court for its support of an act of international terrorism that causes harm in the U.S.
- JASTA Removes the Entire Tort Requirement
Beyond eliminating the ‘State Sponsor’ requirement, JASTA also narrows foreign immunity in another way: the so-called ‘Entire Tort’ requirement has been eliminated. Under the old rules, foreign states and related entities could rely on sovereign immunity if their offending act occurred outside the jurisdiction of the United States. For example, U.S. courts had used the ‘Entire Tort’ requirement to dismiss lawsuits against entities linked to the government of Saudi Arabia on the grounds that their financial support of Al Qaeda occurred outside the boundaries United States. As such, the ‘Entire Tort’ did not occur within U.S. jurisdiction.
- This Legislation Has Retroactive Applicability
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act applies retroactively. The law is applicable to any litigation that is pending on, or was raised after, the date the bill was enacted and that arose out of an international terrorism-related injury that occurred on or after September 11th, 2001. In other words, 9/11 is covered by JASTA, as is every act of international terrorism occurring on U.S. soil after that date.
- The United States Government Retains Control Over Litigation
It must be noted that the United States government retains considerable control over JASTA lawsuits. The law allows the federal government to intervene in any lawsuit brought under JASTA. If the U.S. government can certify that it is engaging in ongoing, good faith negotiations with the foreign state defendant in the case, then the court is instructed to ‘stay’ the lawsuit for up to 180 days. This stay can be renewed by the U.S. government indefinitely as long as it rectifies that negotiations are continuing. This is seen as a counterbalance to the narrowing of sovereign immunity. Theoretically, this provision provides the federal government with the power to indefinitely delay JASTA claims against foreign states.
Contact Our New York City JASTA Claims Lawyers Today
At The Dearie Law Firm, P.C., we have represented NYPD officers, firefighters, transit workers, construction workers, volunteers, and residents in September 11th Victim Compensation Fund claims. If you or your family member is considered filing a 9/11 VCF claim or a JASTA lawsuit, we can help.
To set up a free, fully confidential initial legal consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our law office today. We have locations throughout New York City, including in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. In addition, our law firm operates three mobile offices. We can drive legal services right to your workplace or your doorstep in every neighborhood in New York City and the surrounding communities.