U.S. Supreme Court Denies Alan Gross Appeal in Lawsuit Against U.S. Government 1

Alan Gross speaks on the phone with President Barack Obama after his release from Cuban prison on Dec. 17, 2014. (White House, public domain)

Alan Gross speaks on the phone with President Barack Obama after his release from Cuban prison on Dec. 17, 2014. (White House, public domain)

by Dusty Christensen, Latin America News Dispatch

NEW YORK — The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal on Monday by former government subcontractor Alan Gross, who filed a $60 million lawsuit in 2012 alleging negligence on the part of the U.S. government over the five years he spent in a Cuban prison.

The decision upholds a November 2014 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which dismissed the case on the grounds that the United States is not liable for “claims arising in a foreign country.”

“We are certainly disappointed, but not surprised by the court’s decision,” said Gross’ lawyer Scott Gilbert in a statement to Latin America News Dispatch.

In 2009, Gross was arrested while working as a government subcontractor in Cuba, where he was distributing satellite phones and computer equipment to the island’s Jewish community as part of a USAID democracy promotion program. Cuban authorities

accused him of being a U.S. intelligence agent, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for participating in “a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities.”

In the lawsuit, Gross and his wife Judy say that Gross wasn’t properly informed of the perils of his work, which the “United States negligently directed, organized, and oversaw.” The case was dismissed in federal court, however, just one month before Gross was released from prison in December as part of the thawing of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Gross received $3.2 million in a separate case in December, when USAID reached a settlement with the subcontractor he was working with in Cuba, Development Alternatives, Inc.

As in the most recent ruling, however, the U.S. government denied any liability for Gross’ imprisonment. In a statement released in December, USAID said, “The settlement avoids the cost, delay and risks of further proceedings, and does not constitute an admission of liability by either party.”

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Alan Gross Takes Fight with Feds to U.S. Supreme Court 2

agBy Zoe Tillman, Legal Times, @zoetillman

Alan Gross, the American contractor freed after five years of detention in Cuba, is taking a lawsuit against the federal government to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gross wants the high court to review whether the government can be held responsible for injuries he and his wife claimed they suffered while he was detained in Cuba.

In a petition filed with the high court on Feb. 12, Gross and his wife Judith argued that a federal appeals court in Washington was wrong to find that the federal government was immune against all of the Gross’ claims, including economic losses in the United States and Judith Gross’ emotional distress. The appeals court found that those injuries stemmed from Gross’ incarceration in Cuba, triggering immunity for the feds.

“The decisions of the lower courts will have profound negative consequences for all U.S. residents who travel abroad, no matter how briefly, including those who travel for work,” Gross’ lawyers argued in the petition. “The decisions would mean that a U.S. resident who travels abroad for one day and suffers some injury during that limited time would have no redress for any subsequent harm occurring solely in the United States, even if that domestic injury dwarfs the foreign injuries.”

Gross was working as a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor in Cuba when he was detained by authorities there in 2009. In 2011, he was convicted of attempting to subvert the Cuban government and sentenced to 15 years in prison. While Gross was still incarcerated, he and his wife, who was in the United States, sued the federal government and the contractor who hired him, arguing they were negligent in failing to alert Gross to the riskiness of his work and in preparing him for those risks.

Gross reached a confidential settlement with the contractor, Developer Alternatives Inc. A federal district judge dismissed the case against the U.S. government in May 2013 and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that decision in November—one month before Gross was released.

Gross’ lawyers at Gilbert LLP declined on Friday to discuss their petition to the Supreme Court.

On appeal to the high court, Gross and his wife are also arguing that the lower courts created an unconstitutional distinction between plaintiffs suing the federal government for injuries that took place solely in the United States and those who suffered some or all of their injuries abroad.

The government’s response is due March 16.

Editor’s Note:  Alan Gross already received $3.2 million from a 2014 lawsuit.

Settlement Results in $3.2 Million Check for Alan Gross 1

This photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross with his wife Judy before leaving Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity. AP

This photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross with his wife Judy before leaving Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity. AP

By Mimi Whitefield, mwhitefield@MiamiHerald.com

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Development Alternatives Inc. finalized a settlement this week for claims related to USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who was released from a Cuban prison last week.

Development Alternatives is the Maryland-based international development firm that subcontracted a USAID pro-democracy program to Gross to introduce satellite communications equipment into Cuba.

The amount of the settlement wasn’t disclosed but CNN reported that as part of it, Gross was to be paid $3.2 million.

Gross was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, and held in Cuba until last Wednesday when the Cubans released him as a humanitarian gesture. His release, as well as the swap of a CIA agent held in Cuba for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, paved the way for a historic agreement that will restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

USAID said the settlement resolves unanticipated claims pending before the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals under a cost-reimbursement contract and included claims related to Gross, who had served five years of a 15-year sentence at the time of his release.

The U.S. government has maintained that Gross was simply providing Internet access for the Jewish community in Cuba but the Cuban government said he was convicted for “illegally and covertly introducing … communications equipment meant only for military purposes.”

The Grosses filed a $60 million negligence suit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia against both DAI and the federal government, alleging they had failed to adequately train and prepare him for the risks he would face in Cuba.

DAI earlier settled with the Grosses for an undisclosed amount but a judge dismissed the case against the government, saying it was immune from any claim arising in a foreign country.

USAID said the settlement with DAI, which was announced Tuesday, “avoids the cost, delay and risks of further proceedings, and does not constitute an admission of liability by either party.”

Alan Gross Loses Appeal in Case Against U.S. Government 1

FILE - This undated handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross at an unknown location. An attorney for a Gross, who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba, argued before a federal appeals court that his client should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over his imprisonment. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)

FILE – This undated handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross at an unknown location. An attorney for a Gross, who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba, argued before a federal appeals court that his client should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over his imprisonment. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)

Latin American Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON – An appellate court in Washington D.C. has rejected a lawsuit brought against the U.S. government by Alan Gross, an American subcontractor who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba on a conviction for subversion, judicial officials said.

Gross claimed that the government had not alerted him to the risks that his work on the Communist-ruled island entailed.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday upheld a lower court’s finding that the government has sovereign immunity because the damage the plaintiff suffered occurred outside the United States.

Gross and his wife, Judy, filed the $60 million lawsuit in November 2010, accusing the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bethesda, Maryland-based contractor he worked for, Development Alternatives Inc., of negligence.

In the lawsuit, they alleged that neither DAI nor the government warned him of the risks of the Cuba mission and refused to pull him out after he expressed concerns.

The couple reached a settlement with DAI in 2013 for an undisclosed sum but a U.S. district court threw out their suit against USAID, prompting them to bring the case to the appeals court in Washington.

USAID contracted Maryland-based DAI for a project to expand Internet access and the flow of information in Cuba.

DAI hired Gross to travel to the island, where he was detained in December 2009 with satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community. Cuban authorities said Gross was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 15 years.

Havana has suggested an exchange of Gross for three Cuban intelligence agents serving time in U.S. prisons.

The United States rejects talk of a prisoner swap, instead demanding that Cuba release Gross without conditions.

Lawyer for American Imprisoned in Cuba Argues Client Should be Able to Sue US Government 4

FILE - This undated handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross at an unknown location. An attorney for a Gross, who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba, argued before a federal appeals court that his client should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over his imprisonment. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)

FILE – This undated handout photo provided by the Gross family shows Alan and Judy Gross at an unknown location. An attorney for a Gross, who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba, argued before a federal appeals court that his client should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over his imprisonment. (AP Photo/Gross Family, File)

By Jessica Gresko, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A U.S. government subcontractor who has spent over four years imprisoned in Cuba should be allowed to sue the U.S. government over lost wages and legal fees, his attorney told an appeals court Friday.

Alan Gross was working in Cuba as a government subcontractor when he was arrested in 2009. He has since lost income and racked up legal fees, his attorney Barry Buchman told the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. A lawyer for the government argued the claims are based on his detention in Cuba, making him ineligible to sue.

The panel is expected to issue a written ruling on the case at a later date.

A lower-court judge previously threw out Gross’ lawsuit against the government in 2013, saying federal law bars lawsuits against the government based on injuries suffered in foreign countries. Gross’ lawyers appealed.

Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s U.S. Agency for International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the communist country. It was his fifth trip to Cuba to work with Jewish communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

On Friday, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson asked a lawyer for the government, Alan Burch, if USAID was still sending people to Cuba. He responded he didn’t know. A USAID spokesman did not immediately return a telephone call Friday.

The Associated Press has previously reported that USAID continued its democracy-building efforts in Cuba following Gross’ arrest, including one program to set up a “Cuban Twitter” and another to send young Latin Americans to Cuba.

“The goal is laudable, but this is a very dangerous thing to do, I think,” Henderson said of USAID sending people to Cuba.

Gross said in his lawsuit in 2012 that he wasn’t adequately trained or warned about the dangers, though he wrote in one report on his work that what he was doing was “very risky business in no uncertain terms.” A 2012 AP investigation also found he was using sensitive technology typically available only to governments.

Gross’ $60 million lawsuit blamed the U.S. government and the contractor he was working for, Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc., for failing to appropriately prepare him. The lawsuit did not say how much each party should pay or how Gross’ attorneys arrived at the $60 million figure.

The Gross family settled with Development Alternatives Inc. for an undisclosed amount in May 2013.

Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko.

The Other Alan Gross Reply

By Tracey Eaton, Along the Malecon

Cuban authorities arrested American development worker Alan Gross in 2009 after his fifth trip to the island to set up a network of Internet hotspots. But Gross evidently wasn’t the only older Jewish man spotted in Cuba carrying out a mission for the U.S. government.

Jeff Kline

Jeff Kline

Jeffrey Robert Kline, founder of the Self Reliance Foundation, went to the island to test cell phones and other wireless devices for a contractor that was working for the State Department, according to a knowledgeable source who asked not to be identified.

Government agencies turned to Kline because he was considered a “maverick,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “People hire him to do things others won’t touch.” Kline, 64, could not be reached for comment. In February, I wrote about a Cuba project he is doing for the Broadcasting Board of Governors. (See “The incredible disappearing $450,000 contract”).

DAI, an international development company in Bethesda, Md., had hired Gross to travel to Cuba to set up the Internet hotspots. The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, financed DAI as part of a democracy project aimed at undermining Cuba’s socialist government. Gross went about his business quietly, the knowledgeable source said, but Kline “was being very public” and “was slinging cell phones around.”

According to the source’s version of events: Kline and other Self Reliance Foundation employees had brought into Cuba some $50,000 worth of communications gear, including at least one satellite phone. Cuban authorities confiscated some of the gear and briefly detained one of the employees. The employees heard rumors that Cuban police were looking for a Jewish man who was distributing communication gear. They never found out whether authorities were looking for Kline or for Alan Gross. But they were worried and hurried to get out of the country and return to the U.S.

Feature continues here: The Other Alan Gross

U.S. Doctors See American Jailed in Cuba 1

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN

Havana, Cuba (CNN) — Alan Gross, a U.S. State Department contractor jailed in Cuba, received his first visit by American doctors, Gross’ attorney said Thursday.

“A U.S. medical team did visit Alan in early July,” Gross’ attorney, Scott Gilbert, wrote CNN in an e-mail. “The family has received the results and, at least at this time, does not have any plans to release them to the public.”

The doctors’ visit was not previously disclosed.

Gross, 64, is serving a 15-year sentence for bringing banned communications equipment to Cuba as part of a State Department program to increase access to the internet and spread democracy on the island.

Gross’ family has said that his health is failing and had asked that Cuban authorities allow American doctors to examine him.

Cuban authorities had said that Gross was being adequately cared for in the military hospital where he is imprisoned, but in June said they had granted permission for doctors to visit.

The change in course comes as Cuba intensifies its campaign to secure the release of Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy prison sentences in the United States.

Cuban officials argue that the men infiltrated hard-line Cuban exile groups to prevent terrorist attacks on the island. But U.S. prosecutors called the men spies, and they were convicted in 2001.

Four of the agents remain in U.S. federal prison. The fifth man, Rene Gonzalez, returned to Cuba in May after serving 14 years in prison and on supervised release.

Cuba’s talks of a possible prisoner trade have been dismissed by U.S. officials, who say Gross should be released immediately.

In May, Gross settled with his employer for an undisclosed sum.

He and his wife, Judy, had sued Development Alternatives Inc., and the U.S. government for $60 million, saying that Gross had not been properly trained to carry out his work in Cuba. The settlement did not include the government.

The company hired Gross to fulfill a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to connect private citizens to the Internet in Cuba, a scarce commodity on the island. He arrived in Cuba in 2009.

Lawyers for American Imprisoned in Cuba Appeal Ruling Dismissing Case Against US Government 2

By Associated Press, Updated: Friday, May 31, 4:54 PM

WASHINGTON — An American imprisoned in Cuba is appealing a judge’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit he brought against the U.S. government, for whom he was working when he was arrested. A federal judge in Washington dismissed Alan Gross’ case against the government Tuesday, saying federal law bars lawsuits against the government based on injuries suffered in foreign countries. Lawyers for Gross filed a notice they would appeal Friday.

Gross was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development and its contractor Development Alternatives Inc. when he was arrested in Cuba in 2009. He was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison for his work helping Jewish groups with internet access. The lawsuit said he wasn’t prepared for his job’s risks. Gross settled with Maryland-based DAI for an undisclosed amount earlier this month.

American Held in Cuba: Suit Against US Dismissed 1

By Jessica Gresko, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by an American imprisoned in Cuba against the U.S. government, for whom he was working when he was arrested. Judge James Boasberg wrote Tuesday in an opinion dismissing the case that federal law bars lawsuits against the government based on injuries suffered in foreign countries. The lawsuit was filed last year by Alan Gross. He was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development and its contractor Development Alternatives Inc. when he was arrested in 2009.

Gross had been working to bring internet access to the Communist island and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his work. The lawsuit said he wasn’t prepared for his job’s risks. Gross settled with Bethesda, Md.-based DAI for an undisclosed amount earlier this month.

Cuban Prisoner Alan Gross Settles Lawsuit Against Md. Company 1

WASHINGTON – (Associated Press) An American imprisoned in Cuba settled a lawsuit Thursday against the company he was working for when arrested, a lawsuit that claimed he wasn’t properly warned about or prepared for the risks of working in the communist nation. Alan Gross and his wife filed the lawsuit in November against the U.S. government and Bethesda, Md.,-based Development Alternatives Inc., a contractor for the government’s U.S. Agency for International Development. The $60 million lawsuit claimed Gross should have been provided with better information and training for his work setting up internet access points in Cuba.

Lawyers for DAI and the U.S. government had previously asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. One of the lawyers’ arguments was that federal law barred the lawsuit because it was based on an injury suffered in a foreign country. Gross, 64, was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 on his fifth trip to work with Cuba’s Jewish community set up internet access points.

Gross was working for DAI under a contract with USAID, which does work to promote peaceful democratic change on the island. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine the communist government, and court documents show Gross took steps to avoid detection and believed he was engaged in “very risky business.” A Cuban court subsequently convicted Gross of crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Lawyers filed a notice of the settlement Thursday in federal court in Washington. The settlement amount was not disclosed, and the agreement only covers Development Alternatives Inc., also known as DAI, not the government. DAI’s chief executive officer said in a statement that settling the lawsuit, in which neither party admits fault, allows the company to work together with Gross’ family to bring him home.

Gross’ wife Judy, who has traveled to Cuba on several occasions to see her husband, said in the same statement that the family is “very pleased that DAI has committed to help address the injuries sustained by our family.” “We want Alan back home, safe and sound,” she said.

Diplomatic efforts to win Gross’ release have so far failed, and the case has been a sticking point in improving ties between the two countries, which have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1961. The Cuban government has linked Gross’ case to that of five Cubans convicted of in 2001 of spying on U.S. military installations in South Florida as well as exile groups and politicians. Cuban officials have suggested they would be willing to free Gross in exchange for the men. Four of the men remain in prison in the United States. One man who completed his sentence but was serving probation in the U.S. was recently allowed to return to Cuba permanently.

By JESSICA GRESKO Associated Press