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Media Alerts - Weinstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran
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August 2, 2016
  Weinstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran
Headline: D.C. Circuit rules courts may not compel a third party to transfer countries' IP addresses and Internet domain names to satisfy a judgment under FSIA

Area of Law: Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act

Issue(s) Presented: Whether the parties who hold unsatisfied money judgments against state sponsors of terrorism may attach those countries' IP addresses and top level Internet domain names as a means of satisfying those judgments.

Brief Summary: Appellants, victims of terrorist attacks and their family members, hold substantial unsatisfied money judgments against Iran, North Korea and Syria, arising out of suits brought against those nations under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). In an attempt to collect on these judgments, Appellants served writs of attachment on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a third party entity, for those countries' country-coded top level Internet domain names (ccTLDs) and supporting IP addresses, as well as subpoenas duces tecum seeking additional information regarding those data. ccTLDs are the part of an Internet address following the "dot" that identifies the geographic association of the address. For example, in the web address of McGill University in Montreal, ",".ca is the ccTLD for Canada. They are essential to accessing Internet addresses. ICANN is a California non-profit that performs several functions essential to the functioning of the Internet, including selecting and approving qualified entities to operate Internet top level domain names (TLDs). As relevant here, it manages Internet domain names. Put simply, Appellants sought to assume control of Internet domain names for Iran, North Korea, and Syria as a means to collect on the outstanding judgments.

ICANN moved to quash the writs, arguing that the data Appellants sought was not property subject to attachment, that the data were not owned by the defendant countries, and that ICANN lacked the unilateral authority to transfer that data. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, applying D.C. law in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 69(a)(1), held that ccTLDs were not "goods, chattels [or] credits" within the meaning of the D.C. Code, and Weinstein appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the ruling on other grounds. As a preliminary matter, the court concluded that the terrorist activity exception to FSIA immunity allowed Appellants to pursue attachments of the ccJDs, finding that once a party obtains a judgment under section 150A of FSIA, which applies to state sponsored terrorism, section 1610(g) strips execution immunity from all of the defendant sovereign's property. However, the court found that there were enormous third party interests at stake in ordering ICANN to cede management of ccTLDs to Appellants and no way to execute on the judgment Appellants sought without impairing those interests. The court concluded that the management of Internet domain names relies on a complex network of interlinked technology and voluntary international agreements and that bypassing the normal process of registering domain names by forcing ICANN to transfer the ccTLDs at issue would not only jeopardize ICANN's role but also potentially undermine the stability and interoperability of the entire process.

For the full text of the opinion, please see$file/14-7193.pdf.

Panel: Garland, Henderson, Randolph

Argument Date: January 21, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: August 2, 2016

Docket Number: 14-7193

Decided: Affirmed on different grounds.

Counsel: Meir Katz, Robert J. Tolchin, Steven T. Gebelin, Scott M. Lesowitz, for appellants.

Noel J. Francisco, Tara Lynn R. Zurawski, and Ryan J. Watson for appellee.

Author of Opinion: Henderson

Case Alert Author: Ripple Weistling

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elizabeth Beske, Ripple Weistling

    Posted By: Ripple Weistling @ 08/02/2016 02:38 PM     DC Circuit  

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