Recognition of Money Judgment Against a Foreign Sovereign

In Villoldo v. Republic of Cuba, the Plaintiffs, two brothers, sought enforcement via the U.S. District Court in Colorado (“District Court”) under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (“FSIA”) of a multi-billion-dollar money judgment previously awarded by a Florida state court against Cuba for the 1959 torture and killing of their father, Gustavo Villoldo (“Gustavo”), during the Cuban Revolution.  The brothers argued that Cuba was not immune from the jurisdiction of the state or federal courts as the facts and circumstances in the case at bar fell within the terrorism exception under FSIA which provides, in relevant part, that foreign states lose their immunity in actions where the plaintiffs seek damages for “personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources for such an act.”


For the terrorism exception to apply, the plaintiff needs to be a national of the United States and the defendant needs to be either a designated state sponsor of terrorism or designated as such because of the act in question, both of which the District Court held were established in the instant matter. A third and fourth requirement to fall with the terrorism exception are that the plaintiffs must seek monetary damages for the injuries or death cause and the claimant must have afforded the foreign state a reasonable opportunity to arbitrate the claim – again, both of which were held to be established by the brothers by satisfactory evidence. Additionally, the Plaintiffs argued that their father’s torture and eventual suicide was an extrajudicial killing committed by a designated state sponsor of terrorism and that his suicide was the result of months of harassment because of Cuba’s targeting of citizens with U.S. ties. The District Court agreed and held that the Plaintiff’s father’s suicide was an act of “extrajudicial killing” as it was reasonably foreseeable or anticipated as a natural consequence of the foreign state’s actions and that the conduct in question was a substantial factor in their father’s suicide. As such, both the Florida court that originally rendered the multi-billion-dollar money judgement in the brothers’ favor and the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction over the extrajudicial killing of Gustavo.


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