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Tort – Iraqi Detainee Claims Against Contractor Dismissed

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//September 29, 2011

Tort – Iraqi Detainee Claims Against Contractor Dismissed

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//September 29, 2011

Al-Quraishi v. L-3 Services Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-150-11, 26 pp.) (Niemeyer, J.) (King, J., dissenting) Appealed from the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland at Greenbelt. (Messitte, J.) 4th Cir. Click here for the full-text opinion.

Holding: In this tort suit with claims filed by 72 Iraqi detainees, seized in Iraq by U.S. military personnel and allegedly tortured by defendant government contractor, the 4th Circuit says it has jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal, but it reverses the District Court order denying the government contractor’s motion to dismiss and remands with instructions to dismiss.


The factual context alleged in the complaint is, for purposes of the issues here, the same as stated in Al-Shimari v. CACI Int’l Inc. There are, however, differences between the allegations in the two cases. The complaint here states that defendant L-3 Services was hired by the military to provide translation services in connection with interrogations of Iraqi detainees. It alleges L-3 translators have admitted to participating in interrogations where detainees were hit, kept in stress positions until they collapsed, made to do push-ups until they collapsed, kept awake for long periods, exposed to extreme temperatures and choked by the throat. Plaintiffs were detained not only in Abu Ghraib prison but at over 20 different sites in Iraq, all staffed by L-3 Services employees.

L-3 moved to dismiss the complaint on numerous grounds. The District Court denied the contractor’s motion, concluding, among other things that this case was essentially a civil tort action suit against a non-governmental entity. The court concluded it was too early to dismiss the complaint on the basis of derivative absolute immunity because discovery might end up supporting plaintiffs’ position that defendants were not operating under the authority of the government in committing the alleged acts of torture, but instead acting of their own volition. If they were acting outside the scope of their employment, they would not be entitled to derivative sovereign immunity.

On the contractor’s appeal, we reverse and remand with instructions to dismiss this case for the reasons given in Al-Shimari v. CACI Int’l. We conclude the plaintiffs’ state law claims are preempted by federal law and displaced by it.

As an additional issue in this case, plaintiffs challenge our jurisdiction to decide these issues on L-3 Services’ interlocutory appeal. They contend all of the requirements for collateral order review have not been satisfied. We conclude the interlocutory appeal in this case falls within that narrow class of cases that are immediately appealable. We reject plaintiffs’ challenge to our jurisdiction; reverse the District Court’s order denying L-3 Services’ motion to dismiss; and remand with instructions to dismiss.


(King, J., dissenting): Because we lack jurisdiction to decide whether the plaintiffs’ state law tort claims are preempted by federal law, I am compelled to dissent. Contrary to the majority’s holding, the collateral order doctrine offers no basis for the majority’s preemption ruling. Although the District Court’s denial of immunity to defendant L-3 Services Inc. under the laws of war might afford us jurisdiction to address that discrete issue, the majority declines to so resolve this appeal. Rather, the majority disposes of plaintiffs’ state law claims solely on the ground that they are preempted by federal law. An interlocutory denial of dismissal for preemption, however, fails to satisfy the exacting requirements for collateral order review.

Moreover, L-3’s assertion of a preemption defense is not sufficiently interconnected with the immunity issue that both ought to be definitively resolved prior to moving forward with the litigation. Consequently, the pre-emption aspect of L-3’s appeal should be dismissed.

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s decision to reverse the District Court’s judgment on that ground.

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