Friday, December 6, 2013

Dames & Moore v. Regan case brief

Dames & Moore v. Regan case brief summary
453 U.S. 654 (1981)

Link to Full Case:

Petitioner company sought review of an order from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed the dismissal of petitioner's action seeking declaratory relief from enforcement of executive orders that had the effect of nullifying petitioner's claims against Iran.

Petitioner company filed an action against defendants, the Government of Iran and Iranian banks, seeking money owed for services performed. The district court issued orders of attachment directed against the property of defendants. Petitioner was granted summary judgment. However, pursuant to an unrelated hostage agreement, American hostages in Iran were released. The U.S. President issued executive orders to implement the agreement. The orders nullified all non-Iranian interests in Iranian assets and suspended all settlement claims. Petitioner filed an action for declaratory relief against the government to prevent enforcement of the executive orders. The district court dismissed the complaint. Petitioner then sought a writ of certiorari.

  • When Iranian revolutionaries took power and seized hostages from the United States, the then President, Carter, invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and froze Iranian assets that were in the US.
  • Iran and the US came to an agreement to release the hostages and
    • The agreement terminated all legal proceedings against the Iranian government and created an independent Claims Tribunal.
      • This was known as the Algerian Accord.
    • This meant that if someone had a claim against the Iranian government from before the revolution, they could not get their money in a court in the United States.
      • Instead, one would have to go to the independent Claims Tribunal in the Netherlands, and try to win their case there.
    • This action was done via executive order.
  • Plaintiffs Dames & Moore had an outstanding judgment against Iran for $3,000,000.  This judgement was oustanding from before the revolution. The plaintiffs were annoyed that they had already won their case, and now this executive order was telling them that they had to relitigate the issue in the Claims Tribunal. Therefore, Dames & Moore sued to get the executive order thrown out.
    • Dames & Moore claimed the executive order was beyond the scope of Presidential power.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the IEEPA.
  • The Court affirmed, holding that the executive orders were sustained by the broad authority granted under the Trade With the Enemy Act. 
  • Therefore, attachments obtained by petitioner were specifically made subordinate to further actions that the President might take under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), 50 U.S.C.S. §§ 1701-1706. 
  • In addition, the President was authorized to suspend pending claims because Congress consented.
  • The Court granted certiorari and affirmed the dismissal of petitioner's action seeking declaratory relief from enforcement of executive orders that had the effect of nullifying petitioner's claims against Iran. 
  • The court held that the executive orders were authorized by the Trade With the Enemy Act. 

Course: International Law/Constitutional Law


  1. Full case name: Dames & Moore v. Donald T. Regan, Secretary of the Treasury, et al.
    Citations: 453 U.S. 654, 101 S.Ct. 2972; 69 L.Ed.2d 918

    Executive orders dissolving judgments and suspending pending civil claims against Iranian government were constitutional.

    Court membership
    Chief Justice
    Warren E. Burger

    Associate Justices
    William J. Brennan, Jr. · Potter Stewart
    Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
    Harry Blackmun · Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
    William Rehnquist · John P. Stevens

    Case opinions
    **Majority: Rehnquist
    **Concurrence: Stevens, in part

    Laws applied
    IEEPA (50 U.S.C. §1702)

  2. After the inauguration of Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981, the Reagan administration agreed with Iran to terminate legal proceedings in U.S. courts involving claims by U.S. nationals against Iran, to nullify attachments against Iranian property entered by U.S. courts to secure any judgments against Iran, and to transfer such claims from U.S. courts to a newly created arbitration tribunal. These agreements were implemented by executive orders.

    In a 8-1 decision, the opinion of the court was delivered by Justice William H. Rehnquist, which upheld these actions by the Reagan administration and "dismissed a $3 million lawsuit from private firm Dames & Moore against Treasury Secretary Don Regan, filed to recover a debt incurred by the Shah of Iran’s government."[1] The Court found that the administration's actions were authorized by law by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The Supreme Court also approved the suspension of claims filed in U.S. courts even though no specific statutory provision authorized that step. In so doing the Court relied on inferences drawn from related legislation, a history of congressional acquiescence in executive claims settlement practices, and past decisions recognizing broad executive authority. The Court also "substantially refined the applicable test" of the seminal 1952 case of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer[2] and cemented Justice Robert H. Jackson's concurring opinion in that case as "canonical."[3]

    Rehnquist wrote the opinion in this "highly complex and historic case" in eight days.


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