A federal appeals court in New York on Wednesday threw out a multimillion-dollar judgment awarded to a group of U.S. terrorism victims, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The court determined that the United States lacked jurisdiction over a lawsuit brought by the victims against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The ruling is a significant setback for the 10 American families who sued over terrorist attacks in Israel during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s that left 33 dead and more than 400 injured.
After a trial in Manhattan federal court last year, jurors found the PLO and Palestinian Authority liable for the attacks and ordered the groups to pay the families $218.5 million, which was automatically tripled to $655.5 million under a U.S. anti-terrorism law.
The PA subsequently appealed the verdict while the PLO later said it “lacks the funds” to pay the compensation.
But on Wednesday, three judges for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, saying there wasn’t enough of a connection between the U.S. and the Israel attacks.
There is no U.S. jurisdiction in this case, “no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs’ claims,” wrote Judge John Koetl, according to The Wall Street Journal.
One test of jurisdiction was whether the Palestinian Authority and the PLO could be considered “at home” in the U.S. Despite the groups’ office and lobbying efforts in Washington, the appeals panel said that was insufficient to establish a substantial presence in the U.S. The groups are clearly “at home in Palestine”, the opinion said.
The victims who brought the lawsuit were U.S. citizens, but the judges said that during the Israel attacks, the shooters “fired indiscriminately” at large groups of people, meaning they weren’t expressly targeting Americans.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs had argued that the attacks were aimed at the U.S. and intended to influence U.S. foreign policy.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the Israel-based lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Congress and the State Department should intervene to “ensure that these families are compensated by the PA and PLO for these crimes.”
“This decision must be corrected so that these families may receive justice,” she said, according to The Wall Street Journal.