RESPONDENT: Deborah Peterson, et al.
LOCATION: Bank Markazi - Central Bank of Iran
DOCKET NO.: 14-770
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2016- )
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 578 US (2016)
GRANTED: Oct 01, 2015
ARGUED: Jan 13, 2016
DECIDED: Apr 20, 2016
Edwin S. Kneedler - Deputy Solicitor General, for the United States as amicus curiae for the respondents
Jeffrey A. Lamken - for the petitioner
Theodore B. Olson - for the respondents
Facts of the case
Deborah Peterson and a group of other plaintiffs were seeking to obtain judgments for injury or wrongful death during acts of terrorism by Iran. The Iran Central Bank (Bank Markazi) owned nearly $2 billion worth of bonds that were held in an account in New York City. Based on the Uniform Commercial Code, these assets were not considered assets of Bank Markazi, and therefore could not be attached by the plaintiffs and were immune from attachment under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
While this case was pending, Congress passed the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, Section 8772 of which stated, “[T]he financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District for the Southern District of New York in Peterson et al. v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al., shall be subject to execution…in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by an act of [terrorism].” The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment based on Section 8772. Bank Markazi argued that Section 8772 violated the United States’ separation of powers because the law was solely directed at this specific case. The district court granted summary judgment for plaintiffs and ordered the turnover of the assets. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
Does a statute that effectively directs a particular result in a single pending case violate the separation of powers?
Media for Bank Markazi v. PetersonAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 2016 in Bank Markazi v. Peterson
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 20, 2016 in Bank Markazi v. Peterson
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Ginsburg has the opinion of the Court this morning in 14-770, Bank Markazi versus Peterson.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
A provision of 2012, Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, 22 U. S. C. §8772, makes available, for postjudgment execution, a set of assets held at a New York bank for Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran.
The assets would partially satisfy judgments gained in separate actions by over a 1,000 victims of Iran sponsored terrorist acts. Those judgments remain unpaid.
§8772 is an unusual statute.
It designates a particular set of assets and renders them available to satisfy the liability and damages judgments underlying a consolidated enforcement proceeding indentified in the statute by the district court's docket number.
The question raised by petitioner Bank Markazi, does §8772 violate the separation of powers by purporting to change the law for and directing a particular result in a single pending case?
The District Court rejected Bank Markazi's separation of powers challenge and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
In agreement with those courts, we hold that §8772 does not transgress constraints the Constitutional places on Congress and the President.
Bank Markazi describes §8772 as a one case only regime.
That is not an accurate description.
The provision covers a category of postjudgment execution claims filed by numerous plaintiffs who in multiple civil actions obtained evidence-based judgments against Iran together amounting to billions of dollars.
§8772 permits those judgment creditors to recoup against the designated assets some of the money Iran owes them if a court determines that Iran and no other owns the assets.
Congress, our decisions make clear, may amend the law and make the newly enacted measure applicable to pending cases, even when the amendment, given facts not generally in dispute, will be outcome determinative.
We are mindful too that Congress passed and the President signed §8772 in furtherance of their status on the matter of foreign policy.
Action in that realm was respectful review by courts.
The executive has historically made case specific sovereign immunity determinations and courts have accepted those determinations as binding.
Further, exercise by Congress and the President of control of the claims against foreign governments and of foreign government owned property in the United States is hardly novel.
For reasons stated and explained in the Court's opinion, we perceive in §8772, no violation of the separation of powers, principles and no threat to the independence of the judiciary.
The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Sotomayor joins.