The Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) law firm is pleased to announce an important victory in its ongoing efforts to seek justice for U.S. servicemembers and their families severely injured in terrorist attacks in Iraq. Specifically, on January 4, 2021, in Atchley, et al., v. AstraZeneca et al., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned and remanded a trial court’s dismissal of the case.
In the case, Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants provided money and medical goods to terrorist groups Hezbollah and Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA or Act) as amended by the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), and various state laws. The case aims to hold accountable a string of medical supply and manufacturing companies for knowingly providing “substantial assistance” to Hezbollah and JAM who were responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths in Iraq.
“This outcome is a resounding affirmation that these cases should be permitted past the pleading stage and will reverberate in the other cases we are handling on behalf of our brave soldiers and their families,” said Attorney Chris Paulos, managing partner of LPR’s counter-terrorism litigation team. LPR serves as co-counsel in the Atchley case, representing 47 military service members and their families who suffered injury or death from JAM attacks.
Lead Counsel includes Washington D.C.-based attorneys Ryan Sparacino of the firm Sparacino & Andreson, PLLC; and Joshua Branson and David Frederick of the firm Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel, & Frederick, PLLC. Attorney Branson handled the appeal.
Defendants in the case include: ASTRAZENECA UK LIMITED, ASTRAZENECA PHARMACEUTICALS LP, GE HEALTHCARE USA HOLDING LLC, GE MEDICAL SYSTEMS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES, INC., GE MEDICAL SYSTEMS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES GMBH, JOHNSON & JOHNSON, CILAG GMBH INTERNATIONAL, ETHICON ENDOSURGERY, LLC, ETHICON, INC., JANSSEN ORTHO LLC, JANSSEN PHARMACEUTICA N.V., JOHNSON & JOHNSON (MIDDLE EAST) INC., ORTHO BIOLOGICS LLC, PFIZER INC., PFIZER ENTERPRISES SARL, PFIZER PHARMACEUTICALS LLC, PHARMACIA & UPJOHN COMPANY LLC, WYETH PHARMACEUTICALS INC., F. HOFFMANN-LA ROCHE LTD., GENENTECH, INC., and HOFFMANN-LA ROCHE INC.
Three judges comprised the panel hearing the appeal: Hon. Cornelia Thayer Livingston Pillard, Hon. Robert L. Wilkins, as well as Hon. Harry T. Edwards. Judge Pillard wrote the opinion for the Court.
Defendants Allegedly Funded a “Pill Army”
Plaintiffs in the Atchley v. AstraZeneca case allege that to win lucrative contracts, the defendants paid bribes to the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH). The MOH had been overrun and was totally controlled by known terrorist group JAM, which had launched a years-long campaign to harm Americans and drive the U.S. military’s presence out of Iraq, according to Pillard’s filed opinion.
Described as “the deadliest terrorist group in the country,” JAM massacred thousands of people, including Plaintiffs and their family members.
The Plaintiffs describe two forms of illegal support the defendants gave the terrorist group. Allegedly, the companies availed themselves of local agents to terrorists in exchange for contracts. The defendants also allegedly handed off batches of valuable medical goods that JAM sold on the black market to fund their operations. Terrorist fighters also allegedly received such goods as payment for their services.
“JAM used the free drugs and medicine illegally provided by the defendants as currency to pay its members so successfully that JAM was widely known amongst Iraqis as ‘the Pill Army,’” Paulos says. “The defendants knew this and still did business with JAM/MOH.”
Defendants Allegedly Knew Terrorists Where in Charge of the Iraqi Ministry of Health
In the opinion, Judge Pillard wrote, “Critically, on the facts plaintiffs allege, defendants undoubtedly had the degree of awareness that our precedent requires regarding the connection between their payments and gifts and the terrorist violence.”
When Defendants finalized medical-supply contracts at the MOH, numerous clues in the form of “weapons, fighters, and propaganda” would have tipped them off as to the JAM’s command of the Ministry, Pillard stated in the opinion. Furthermore, “…contemporaneous reports in mainstream media of the terrorists’ control of the Ministry provided notice of the stakes of doing business with that entity,” the judge adds.
“The appellate court overturned trial court’s erroneous decision and will remand the case back to the lower court. The case should now move into discovery, and the court should require Defendants to produce the additional evidence we know exists, specifically, that the money and goods provided had a substantial effect on the ability of Hezbollah and JAM to commit the devastating and lethal attacks against our clients,” Attorney Chris Paulos said.
Holding Accountable Those Who Support Terrorism
Atchley v. AstraZeneca represents a new crop of terrorism cases stemming from a 2016 amendment to the federal laws that permit victims of terrorism to sue private companies, banks, and other actors along the causal chain of injuries from acts of terrorism. This amendment was passed with bipartisan support, over President Obama’s veto, and is intended to provide “the broadest possible basis” for litigants to hold those who support terrorism, directly or indirectly.