By Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear Sudan’s appeal of $314.7 million in damages awarded in a lawsuit seeking compensation for American sailors injured in 2000 in the deadly al Qaeda bombing of the Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen.
The damages were levied by default because Sudan did not appear before a lower court to defend itself against allegations that it provided support to the Islamist militants. Sudan contends that it had not been properly notified of the lawsuit, in violation of U.S. and international law.
Fifteen sailors injured in the attack and three of their spouses sued the government of Sudan in 2010 in Washington, accusing it of providing material support to help al Qaeda carry out the bombing in the southern Yemeni port of Aden.
Sudan denies the allegation.
On Oct. 12, 2000, two men in a small boat detonated explosives alongside the Navy guided missile destroyer as it was refueling in Aden, killing 17 sailors, wounding more than three dozen others and blasting a gaping hole in its hull. The vessel was repaired and later returned to full active duty.
Sudan contends that the lawsuit had not been properly initiated because the notice of the claims was sent to its embassy in Washington rather than directly to its minister of foreign affairs in Khartoum, violating both the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a U.S. law governing when foreign governments may be sued in American courts, and international law.
In 2012, a federal judge in Washington issued a default judgment of $314.7 million against Sudan, which did not respond to the lawsuit. A separate federal judge in New York later ordered several banks to turn over certain assets they held for Sudan, to partially satisfy the judgment.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld those orders in 2015.
The administration of President Donald Trump agreed with Sudan’s position, saying the United States rejects judicial notices at its embassies abroad. Allowing notices to be sent to a foreign embassy in Washington “threatens harm to the United States’ foreign relations and its treatment in courts abroad,” it said.
The Supreme Court on Monday did not act on a separate bid by family members of the sailors who died to hold Sudan responsible for assisting in the bombing and collect about $35 million in damages.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Grant McCool)