U.S. Second Circuit - The FindLaw 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Cuba Wins Assassination Default Appeal Thanks to Bankers

Aldo Vera Jr. filed a lawsuit against the nation of Cuba due to the alleged assassination of his father in the late 1970s in Puerto Rico. After receiving a default judgment on his claims in 2008 in a Florida state court, which were presumed to be permissible under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act's terrorism exception, the court awarded him $45 million in damages.

Unfortunately for Mr. Vera, in attempting to enforce the judgment, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed the district court's decision holding Cuba liable at all. The Second Circuit found that the state court decision that the federal district court based its decision and order on was erroneous, thereby rendering the district court's decision erroneous as well.

Battle of the Bankers

You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, and you better be ready for a long, drawn out legal battle when you serve a subpoena on a foreign bank that holds an entire nation's assets. When Mr. Vera tried to discover which assets the nation of Cuba held inside the U.S., or were reachable by a U.S. Court, via serving a subpoena on Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A., the bank fired back with motions to quash. When those failed, it sought reconsideration. When that failed, it appealed the decision to the Second Circuit.

The Second Circuit then reviewed the entire record of the case. In doing so, it realized that the Florida state court decision. It noted that Cuba's qualification under the FSIA was not fully nor fairly litigated in state court. Additionally, the appellate court explained that even the FSIA issue had been fully litigated in state court, a federal district court cannot be bound by the state court's decision, but rather must independently analyze the nation's qualification for immunity, or lack thereof.

In the end, the Second Circuit held that Cuba was jurisdictionally immune due to the fact that the record did not sufficiently tie Cuba's terrorist designation to Vera's father's murder.

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