A Chicago federal judge has tossed a lawsuit against suburban Palestinian aid groups, which alleged the groups were disguised versions of defunct Hamas support organizations that owed a $156 million judgment to a couple whose son was killed by Hamas in a terrorist attack in Israel, saying there was not enough evidence to show the new groups were alter egos of the old ones.
On Aug. 18 in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled against Stanley and Joyce Boim in the couple's litigation against two Chicago-area Muslim organizations. However, Coleman gave the Boims a chance to come back with a more thorough suit.
Agents of the Hamas militant group murdered the Boims' 17-year-old son, David Boim, in 1996 in Jerusalem. The Boims filed a lawsuit against individuals and organizations in the United States that were financing Hamas. The Boims won the suit, receiving a $156 million award in 2004.
However, the Boim couple, who are U.S. citizens living in Israel, said they have only been paid a fraction of the award. The original defendants were the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, The American Muslim Society and Islamic Association for Palestine.
Plaintiffs claim the defendants dissolved their groups, replacing them with new organizations to evade paying plaintiffs. The new organizations are American Muslims for Palestine, formed in 2005 and Americans for Justice in Palestine Educational Foundation, formed in 2009. The new organizations, which are both based in Bridgeview, contain some of the leaders of the old groups and continue to help Hamas, according to plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs took the two new groups to court May 12, 2017, to hold them liable for the $156 million judgment. The Palestinian groups countered with a motion to dismiss the suit.
Judge Coleman allowed that the case is a "close one," but threw out the suit, saying plaintiffs painted the case with "overly broad strokes" to "prevent their previous victory from being a pyrrhic one."
Plaintiffs tried to show continuity between the old and new groups by pointing to the groups' shared mission statements, "to educate people about Palestine," Coleman noted. However, such statements do not suggest backing for Hamas, in Coleman's view.
"To find otherwise would create a false inference that no legitimate humanitarian organization could ever be created with that mission," Coleman observed.
Coleman also pointed out plaintiffs did not tie enough strands from the defunct entities to the new ones. As an example, there was no evidence the leaders of the new groups had the same level of control as they might have enjoyed in the former groups.
Further, plaintiffs did nothing to show assets were transferred between the organizations, according to Coleman, who added such a showing would have been "impossible" anyway, because the original entities no longer existed or their assets had been seized by the government.
The judge concluded plaintiffs failed to show the new organizations are "disguised continuances" of the defunct entities.
"This Court is wary on the one hand of potentially permitting the funding of a terrorist organization and cutting off a source of recovery of a significant judgment. On the other hand, this Court is equally cautious of branding any organization and its members that support humanitarian interests for the people of Palestine as having an unlawful motive," Coleman said.
However, Coleman is giving plaintiffs the opportunity to file a new complaint in the event they can further develop their allegations.
The Boims are represented by the Chicago firms of Locke Lord LLP and Jaszczuk P.C., as well as by Lewin & Lewin LLP, of Washington, D.C.
Defendants are defended by the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, of Richardson, Texas.