Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

PETITIONER: Asid Mohamad, et al.
RESPONDENT: Jibril Rajoub, et al.
LOCATION: Jericho

DOCKET NO.: 11-88
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 566 US (2012)
GRANTED: Oct 17, 2011
ARGUED: Feb 28, 2012
DECIDED: Apr 18, 2012

ADVOCATES:
Curtis E. Gannon - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
Jeffrey L. Fisher - for the petitioners
Jeffrey Fisher - on behalf of the petitioners
Laura G. Ferguson - for the respondents

Facts of the case

In September of 1995, Azzam Rahim, an American citizen, was tortured and murdered while in the custody of Palestinian Authority intelligence officers in Jericho. The respondents, Jibril Rajoub, Amin Al-Hindi, Twfik Tirawi, the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, never disputed liability for the torture and murder. The petitioners, Azzam Rahim's widow and children, filed suit against the respondents under the Torture Victim Protection Act.

The district court dismissed the petitioners' action against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization on the grounds that the Torture Victim Protection Act permits actions against natural persons only. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision.

Question

Does the Torture Victim Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, permit actions against defendants who are not natural persons?

Media for Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 2012 in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 18, 2012 in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Sotomayor has our opinion this morning in case 11-88, Mohamad versus the Palestinian Authority.

Sonia Sotomayor:

The Torture Victims Protection Act or TVPA authorizes a cause of action against “an individual” for acts of torture and extrajudicial killing.

The question in this case is whether the term individual as used here means natural persons or whether the term is used more broadly such that the Act authorizes liability against certain organizations.

In 1995, Azzam Rahim, a naturalized U.S. citizen, traveled to the West Bank.

There, according to the allegations in the complaint, he was arrested by Palestinian Authority intelligence officers imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately killed.

Ten years later, his relatives, petitioners here, brought suit against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization asserting claims of torture and extrajudicial killing under the TVPA.

The District Court dismissed the suit on the ground that only natural persons could be sued under the Act.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed and we now affirm as well.

Petitioners concede that foreign states may not be sued under the Act, namely, that the Act did not create an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.

They argue however, that the Act does not similarly restrict liability against other entities.

In petitioner's view, by permitting suit against an individual, the TVPA contemplates liability against natural persons and non-sovereign organizations.

We decline to read individual so unnaturally.

As explained in more detail in our opinion, the ordinary meaning of the word “individual” and the statutory context in which it is used persuades us that the Act authorizes suits against natural persons alone.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is affirmed.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous as -- except as to Justice Scalia who joins the Court's opinion except as to part 3(b).

Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion.