A federal judge in Greenbelt has dismissed a lawsuit that accused Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc. of a slow response to a suicide bomb attack that killed more than 50 people at a Pakistan hotel seven years ago.
The lawsuit was brought by the family of Albert DiFederico, who was among the victims of the Sept. 20, 2008, terrorist attack at a Marriott hotel in Islamabad. The Virginia man was in Pakistan as civilian contractor for the State Department.
The wrongful death claim alleged that Marriott was negligent in defending the Islamabad hotel against terrorist attacks and in its response to the bombing.
U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus dismissed the lawsuit Friday, saying Marriott bears no liability because the Islamabad hotel was wholly franchised to a Pakistani company, Hashwani Hotels Ltd., which was solely responsible for the facility’s security.
ARCHIVES: 2013: 4th Circuit revives suit against Marriott | 2012: Federal judge in Md. dismisses suit over hotel bombing
DiFederico’s “tragic death is one that understandably generates concern and sympathy,” Titus wrote. “However, under the laws and facts of this case, the court concludes that liability cannot attach to Marriott. Liability, if any, is the responsibility of Hashwani, because Marriott simply did not exert sufficient control over the operations of the hotel to make it responsible for Mr. DiFederico’s death.”
Titus’ decision marked the second time he has dismissed the wrongful-death action, which was originally filed in June 2011.
Attorneys for DiFederico’s family said they will appeal the last week’s to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Not over ‘by a long shot’
The attack began when a dump truck filled with mortar bombs and shrapnel entered the driveway of the hotel. The explosives malfunctioned, but a second explosion seven minutes later in the rear of the truck proved deadly, igniting a fire that destroyed the hotel.
The attack was portrayed in the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty” about the U.S. government’s successful effort to track down Osama bin Laden.
Lawyers for DiFederico’s family argued that hotel employees failed to take action during that seven-minute window, saying they didn’t properly warn guests their lives were endangered. The lawyers say Marriott should have known that the hotel could be a terrorist target by virtue of its location.
Marriott had argued that the Islamabad hotel was owned and operated by a franchisee and that Marriott was not in control of the security procedures. That franchisee had its own security company, and was solely responsible for safeguarding the hotel, Marriott said.
Titus agreed with the company, saying liability does not necessarily attach to the corporate name.
“The franchise agreement specifies that ‘Hashwani is not [Marriott’s] agent for any purpose in regard to Hashwani’s employees or otherwise,’” Titus wrote. “The discovery in this case has demonstrated that Marriott did not propose, draft or implement a security plan for the hotel, but rather that Hashwani wrote and implemented its own security plan for the hotel which addressed security strategies, threat scenarios, security layers, security equipment and other security concerns specific to the Islamabad Marriott Hotel.”
But the family’s attorneys said Monday that Marriott International exerted considerable influence over the Islamabad operation, such as by threatening to fire the hotel’s general manager and conducting an audit of its security measures.
“That was completely ignored and overlooked” by Titus, said Matthew P. Leto, of Hall, Lamb and Hall P.A. in Miami. “It’s not as hands off as this franchise agreement seems to make it out to be.”
Added Leto’s co-counsel and law partner, Andrew C. Hall: “The case isn’t over by a long shot.”
Marriott International declined to comment on the case. The company was represented by the Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor.
In first dismissing the case in April 2012, Titus said Pakistan was the appropriate country for the case to be heard. The judge said the case would require testimony from Pakistani citizens and that he lacked authority to force them to appear as witnesses in Maryland.
“It would be burdensome to have members of a jury hear evidence regarding a terrorist attack that has little to do with this forum other than the fact that Marriott’s headquarters is in Maryland,” Titus wrote.
But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit in May 2013, saying the Maryland federal court could hear the case.
It would be “a perversion of justice” to compel DiFederico’s widow and three children to go to Pakistan and the same dangerous environment that led to his death, the 4th Circuit held.
The case is DiFederico et al., v. Marriott International Inc., 8:11-cv-01508-RWT.