Marla Ann Bennett was a 24-year-old student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem when she was killed in a bombing in July 2002.
Her family sued Iran under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in the D.C. District Court law after Hezbollah, which the Iranian government has helped fund, claimed responsibility for the attack. The court awarded the plaintiffs a default judgment of $12 million dollars in 2007.
In 2009, plaintiffs attempted to attach a variety of Iranian diplomatic properties that were being held by the US government. The court denied them the ability to attach the properties, holding that diplomatic property is not subject to attachment.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected arguments by Bennett’s family that the properties were no longer used for diplomatic purposes, so they are no longer immune from attachment.
The court also stated that despite the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which provides for attachment of “blocked assets,” the Act does not apply to diplomatic property of a state. The court held that even though the property is being rented out (thus used in a commercial nature), the property is still under the framework of diplomatic property being held by the US. The U.S. has looked after the properties, which include the ambassador’s residence, another residence and two parking lots, since cutting diplomatic ties in 1980 following the take-over of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Since 1983, the U.S. has periodically rented out the properties, with the revenue earmarked for the upkeep under the Vienna Convention.
The court rejected the Bennetts’ claim that renting the property has removed the diplomatic protection, pointing out that the rent is used for a diplomatic purpose, and thus still under the framework of diplomatic property being held by the US.