How to sue a terrorist organization in civil court: The novel approach of serving Hezbollah

July 11, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
The Brooklyn Eastern District Federal Courthouse
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In a landmark court decision, the Eastern District of New York authorized a group of plaintiffs to proceed with their case against the Hezbollah terrorist organization.

This notable decision, written last month by Magistrate Judge Taryn Merkl, has enabled the service of a lawsuit to Hezbollah, in a pioneering approach to addressing the complexities of international law and the fight against terrorism.

In the case, the American plaintiffs, Malka Kumer, Chana Liba Kumer, and Miriam Almackies, alleged that they were victims of rocket and missile attacks launched against civilians in Israel in 2006. These attacks, according to the plaintiffs, were conducted by Hezbollah. The plaintiffs have sought justice by invoking violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act (“ATA”), related to the rocket attacks.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Taryn A. Merkl, EDNY. Photo courtesy of EDNY

The primary challenge for the plaintiffs has been identifying a reliable method to serve the lawsuit on Hezbollah, a non-state actor notoriously difficult to reach through conventional legal avenues.

After their initial proposal to serve Hezbollah by international courier delivery to at least one of three Hezbollah-controlled entities (Al Manar, Al Nour, and the Lebanese Media Group) was denied, the plaintiffs returned with a second motion for alternate service. This second attempt was fortified by an expert declaration from Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Sarit Zehavi, a seasoned intelligence analyst with a specialization in Hezbollah, asserts the unchanging status of these entities as Hezbollah’s operational platforms.

The court agreed that delivering the lawsuit papers to these entities would likely reach Hezbollah’s top officials. It also accepted the argument presented by the plaintiffs and Lt. Col. Zehavi, that service through publication in a Lebanese newspaper would be functionally impossible due to the prevailing political and ideological circumstances.

Magistrate Judge Merkl granted the plaintiffs’ motion to effect substitute service on Hezbollah. This green light from the court represents a legal milestone in dealing with entities like Hezbollah, potentially setting a precedent for future cases of this nature.

The plaintiffs are now authorized to complete service upon Hezbollah within 45 days from June 7 by serving all three Hezbollah-affiliated entities — Al Manar television, Al Nour radio, and the Lebanese Media Group — each by international courier delivery.

 


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