The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a lower court's decision to allow U.S. sailors to collect damages from Sudan after the 2000 al-Qaida bombing of a U.S. Navy destroyer.
The court's decision Tuesday dealt a blow to 15 of the injured sailors and three of their spouses who sued the Sudanese government in 2010 in Washington.
The decision was a significant victory for the northeastern African country, which denies it supported the al-Qaida militant group in the attack. The October 12, 2000, attack occurred while the USS Cole was refueling in the southern Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 sailors and wounding more than three dozen others. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Supreme Court's 8-1 decision prevented the American plaintiffs from collecting nearly $315 million in damages from the Sudanese government.
A federal judge in Washington issued a default judgement in 2012 of $314.7 million against Sudan. A judge in New York later ordered certain banks to relinquish Sudanese assets to partially satisfy the judgement. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of appeals In New York upheld those orders in 2015.
The default judgement was issued because Sudan did not initially defend itself against allegations it supported al-Qaida in the attack.
At issue Tuesday was whether mailing the lawsuit to Sudan's embassy in Washington violated a U.S. law governing when foreign governments can be sued in American courts. The high court said Sudan had not been properly notified of the lawsuit because it should have been mailed to its foreign ministry in the capital of Khartoum.
U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has supported Sudan in the case. Administration officials told the high court that a ruling against Sudan could affect how the U.S. government is treated by foreign courts because the U.S. rejects judicial notices delivered to its embassies.
The sailors criticized the Trump administration in a legal brief, saying, "Particularly given this administration's solicitude for veterans, its decision to side with a state sponsor of terrorism, against men and women who are seeking to recover for grievous injuries suffered in the service of our country, is inexplicable and distressing," the brief said.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority and noted the ruling is "not the end of the road" for the plaintiffs. He said they can resubmit notice of the lawsuit, this time to Sudan's foreign ministry. Alito said they can send the notice through diplomatic channels if an attempt to send it to the foreign ministry fails.