Crédit Lyonnais and NatWest Win Summary Judgment in Long-Running Anti-Terrorism Act Litigation

April 5, 2019

Cleary Gottlieb successfully represented National Westminster Bank plc (NatWest) and Crédit Lyonnais S.A. (Crédit Lyonnais) in a summary judgment win that brought to an end 14 years of hard-fought, billion-dollar litigation under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

The summary judgment rulings dismiss all claims asserted against NatWest and Crédit Lyonnais by more than 200 victims of terror attacks in Israel and the Palestinian Territories between 2001 and 2004. The plaintiffs accused NatWest and Crédit Lyonnais under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act of lending material support for the attacks, which they allege were perpetrated by the terrorist group Hamas, by providing routine banking services to two Palestinian charitable organizations in London and Paris, respectively. The U.S. government accused those charities of funding Hamas in 2003, but they were cleared of those accusations after repeated inquiries by the UK and French governments.

The lawsuits against NatWest and Crédit Lyonnais have been pending since 2005, and the plaintiffs were expected to seek more than one billion dollars in damages (including automatic treble damages as provided in the Anti-Terrorism Act). After years of discovery around the globe and four rounds of dispositive motions, Chief Judge Dora L. Irizarry of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York concluded that the plaintiffs had not presented any evidence on which a reasonable jury could conclude that either NatWest or Crédit Lyonnais had engaged in acts involving violence or danger to human life, or that either bank’s conduct appears to have been intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or government, as required by the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The court also ruled that the plaintiffs had not presented any evidence on which a reasonable jury could find in their favor under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which was passed by Congress in 2016 to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act to permit a plaintiff to assert claims against secondary actors who aided and abetted or conspired with the persons who committed the act of international terrorism by which the plaintiff was injured. Chief Judge Irizarry ruled that the plaintiffs had presented no evidence that either NatWest or Crédit Lyonnais was generally aware that it was playing a role in Hamas’ terrorist activities, as JASTA requires to establish aiding and abetting liability.