U.S. Court: Alien Tort Statute/Torture Victim Protection Act





Alerted to the fact that the former Vice Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Army, Johny Lumintang, was scheduled to deliver a talk in Washington D.C. at a symposium of the United States–Indonesia Society, plaintiffs requested that CJA and the Center for Constitutional Rights file a civil suit against Lumintang on their behalf. In March 2000, an attempt to serve the summons and complaint at the symposium was thwarted, but Lumintang was followed to Washington Dulles Airport and served while waiting to board his plane. Lumintang left the United States, and has never returned.

The complaint – which alleged, inter alia, crimes against humanity; torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and extrajudicial killing – was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Default Judgment & Damages Hearing

Lumintang failed to answer or otherwise appear, and on November 8, 2000, District Judge Gladys Kessler entered a default judgment against him. A hearing on damages was held from March 27 to 29, 2001.  In the evidentiary hearing, CJA’s clients gave sobering testimony, including that of a young man whose foot was amputated after he had been shot by Indonesian soldiers who had detained and beaten him.

On September 10, 2001, Lumintang was found liable for torture, wrongful death, summary execution, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs were awarded compensatory damages varying in amounts from $750,000 to $1,750,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $10,000,000each.

Judgment Vacated

On March 25, 2002 Lumintang filed a motion to vacate the judgment. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay issued a Report and Recommendation on March 3, 2004, recommending that Lumintang’s motion to vacate the judgment be denied.

However, on November 9, 2004, District Judge Gladys Kessler issued an order to vacate the default judgment, finding that the service of the summons and complaint on Lumintang at Washington Dulles International Airport in Fairfax County, Virginia, did not give the District Court in the District of Columbia personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Judge Kessler concluded: “The events in East Timor were a terrible tragedy. It is with great regret that the Court concludes that basic principles of United States jurisprudence compel the conclusion that the Report and Recommendation denying Defendant’s Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment and Order and Judgment on Damages must be overruled and that Defendant’s Motion must [be] granted.”