Bank Markazi v. Peterson, 578 U.S. ___ (2016)




NOTE:?Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.?S. 321 .



certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit

No. 14?770.?Argued January 13, 2016?Decided April 20, 2016


American nationals may seek money damages from state sponsors of terrorism in the courts of the United States. See 28 U.?S.?C. ?1605A. Prevailing plaintiffs, however, often face practical and legal difficulties enforcing their judgments. To place beyond dispute the availability of certain assets for satisfaction of judgments rendered in terrorism cases against Iran, Congress enacted the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012. As relevant here, the Act makes a designated set of assets available to satisfy the judgments underlying a consolidated enforcement proceeding which the statute identifies by the District Court?s docket number. 22 U.?S.?C. ?8772. Section 8772(a)(2) requires a court, before allowing execution against these assets, to determine, inter alia, ?whether Iran holds equitable title to, or the beneficial interest in, the assets.?

Respondents?more than 1,000 victims of Iran-sponsored acts of terrorism, their estate representatives, and surviving family members?rank within 16 discrete groups, each of which brought suit against Iran. To enforce judgments they obtained by default, the 16 groups moved for turnover of about $1.75 billion in bond assets held in a New York bank account?assets that, respondents alleged, were owned by Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran. The turnover proceeding began in 2008. In 2012, the judgment holders updated their motions to include execution claims under ?8772. Bank Markazi maintained that ?8772 could not withstand inspection under the separation-of-powers doctrine, contending that Congress had usurped the judicial role by directing a particular result in the pending enforcement proceeding. The District Court disagreed, concluding that ?8772 permissibly changed the law applicable in a pending litigation. The Second Circuit affirmed.

Held:?Section 8772 does not violate the separation of powers. Pp.?12?24.

(a)?Article III of the Constitution establishes an independent Judiciary with the ?province and duty .?.?. to say what the law is? in particular cases and controversies. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177. Necessarily, that endowment of authority blocks Congress from ?requir[ing] federal courts to exercise the judicial power in a manner that Article III forbids.? Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.?S. 211 . Although Article III bars Congress from telling a court how to apply pre-existing law to particular circumstances, Robertson v. Seattle Audubon Soc., 503 U.?S. 429 ?439, Congress may amend a law and make the amended prescription retroactively applicable in pending cases, Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.?S. 244 ?268; United States v. Schooner Peggy, 1 Cranch 103, 110. In United States v.Klein, 13 Wall. 128, 146, this Court enigmatically observed that Congress may not ?prescribe rules of decision to the Judicial Department .?.?. in [pending] cases.? More recent decisions have clarified that Klein does not inhibit Congress from ?amend[ing] applicable law.?Robertson, 503 U.?S., at 441; Plaut, 514 U.?S., at 218. Section 8772 does just that: It requires a court to apply a new legal standard in a pending postjudgment enforcement proceeding. No different result obtains because, as Bank Markazi argues, the outcome of applying ?8772 to the facts in the proceeding below was a ?foregone conclusio[n].? Brief for Petitioner 47. A statute does not impinge on judicial power when it directs courts to apply a new legal standard to undisputed facts. See Pope v. United States, 323 U.?S. 1 . Pp.?12?19.

(b)?Nor is ?8772 invalid because, as Bank Markazi further objects, it prescribes a rule for a single, pending case identified by caption and docket number. The amended law upheld in Robertson also applied to cases identified in the statute by caption and docket number. 503 U.?S., at 440. Moreover, ?8772 is not an instruction governing one case only: It facilitates execution of judgments in 16 suits. While consolidated for administrative purposes at the execution stage, the judgment-execution claims were not independent of the original actions for damages and each retained its separate character. In any event, the Bank?s argument rests on the flawed assumption that legislation must be generally applicable. See Plaut, 514 U.?S., at 239, n.?9. This Court and lower courts have upheld as a valid exercise of Congress? legislative power laws governing one or a very small number of specific subjects. Pp.?19?21.

(c)?Adding weight to this decision, ?8772 is an exercise of congressional authority regarding foreign affairs, a domain in which the controlling role of the political branches is both necessary and proper. Measures taken by the political branches to control the disposition of foreign-state property, including blocking specific foreign-state assets or making them available for attachment, have never been rejected as invasions upon the Article III judicial power. Cf. Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.?S. 654 . Notably, before enactment of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Executive regularly made case-specific determinations whether sovereign immunity should be recognized, and courts accepted those determinations as binding. See, e.g., Republic of Austria v. Altmann, 541 U.?S. 677 ?691. This practice, too, was never perceived as an encroachment on the federal courts? jurisdiction. Dames & Moore, 453 U.?S., at 684?685. Pp.?21?23.

758 F.?3d 185, affirmed.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II?C of which Thomas, J., joined. Roberts, C.?J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Sotomayor, J., joined.