Case Watch: Haston v. Cuba

Case Watch: Haston v. Cuba

In 2016, Robin Haston filed suit against the Republic of Cuba, Case No. 1:16-cv-615, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. In the Complaint (Dkt. 1), Haston contends that three members of the Cuban National Soccer Team tortured and raped her while she vacationed with her boyfriend in Jamaica. Apparently, the Cuban National Soccer Team happened to be staying at the same hotel as Haston and her boyfriend, and one morning, the three soccer players attacked and raped Haston when she was in a restroom on the resort’s property.

Haston seeks damages from Cuba – as opposed to the individual soccer players – because, according to her, the Soccer Team falls within the definition of “agency or instrumentality” of a sovereign state as set forth in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), and the Team was in Jamaica on an official state trip for a soccer match.

Although plaintiffs ordinarily cannot sue foreign states in U.S. courts for torts committed on foreign soil, see 28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(5), Haston alleges that her suit falls within another provision of the FSIA – the state sponsors of terrorism provision, 28 U.S.C. §1605A. She alleges specifically that, at the time she was hurt, Cuba was a U.S.-designated State Sponsor of Terror, and under §1605A, foreign states are not immune from U.S. lawsuits which seek damages against those countries so designated if the suit is for, inter alia, personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture.” Although Cuba was designated a State Sponsor of Terror at the time of the incident, it was removed from the list on May 29, 2015, and so, at the time Haston filed her lawsuit on March 18, 2016, Cuba was no longer so designated. Whether Haston may sue under §1605A therefore remains unresolved by the Court.

Even if Haston gets beyond that issue, two other open questions remain. One is whether the soccer players were acting within the scope of their “employment” when they raped and assaulted Haston. The other open question is whether that the conduct alleged in the Complaint constitutes “torture” as Congress intended it in the context of State Sponsors of Terror.

The Court recently ordered Haston to file a brief in support of her request for a default judgment against Cuba, which has not appeared in the matter. On May 24, 2017, Haston filed a brief indicating (a) the legal basis for holding Cuba responsible for the conduct of the soccer players, and (b) the evidence she would present at the evidentiary hearing required prior to entering a default judgment against a foreign state. The Court has yet to rule on Haston’s motion.


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