U.S. Court dismisses local woman's lawsuit against Cuba

By Tanya Mitchell | Dec 31, 2012
Source: File image

Bangor — The lawsuit a Stockton Springs woman brought against the nation of Cuba for allegedly imprisoning, torturing and executing her father four decades ago has been dismissed this week.

Sherry Sullivan of Stockton Springs argued in the lawsuit that her father, Geoffrey F. Sullivan, was working on covert anti-Castro operations for the U.S. government in 1963. A member of the Army National Guard and former commercial pilot, the elder Sullivan was reportedly shot down over Cuba in October 1963 and subsequently imprisoned.

In her claim, Sherry Sullivan also referred to rumors of a man named Sullivan who was encountered in a Cuban jail, reports of political prisoners who were there at the time, and U.S. intelligence to make a case that Sullivan was illegally detained.

Wednesday, Dec. 26, Justice George Z. Singal ordered Sullivan's suit dismissed without prejudice. A Nov. 14 order to show cause that was issued to Sullivan through her attorney, David Van Dyke, of Lewiston — the third the court had issued the plaintiff since the case had risen to the federal level in April — indicated that Sullivan and her attorney had yet to successfully serve the defendant in the case.

"The Court orders that on or before Dec. 19, 2012, plaintiff shall file proof that she has completed service... or, alternatively, show good cause why she cannot comply with this provision for service via diplomatic channels," stated Singal in the order.

Court records show Sullivan and her attorney made repeated attempts to serve the Republic of Cuba, an action that would mean the Cuban government had received legal notification of a 2009 default judgment against it. In 2009, Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjlem issued a finding in Sullivan's favor by default, and also found that Sullivan was entitled to $21 million in damages, including pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest and court costs.

According to court documents, the Republic of Cuba, having been legally served notice of the suit, failed to respond in a timely manner, prompting the default finding. At that time the court further found that the damages suffered by Sullivan include loss of support and services as a result of her father's wrongful death, past, current and future severe emotional distress and anguish, economic damages owed to Sullivan's father's estate, and damages for pain and suffering prior to death owed to Geoffrey Sullivan.

Court records show that, based on records of the House Select Committee on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which investigated and documented the travels of Sullivan and another American, Alexander Irwin Rorke Jr., it was found that Sullivan's father was working on covert anti-Castro operations for the U.S. government in the fall of 1963.

According to court documents, the court found evidence to support the idea that Sullivan and Rorke had been shot down and showing that men fitting their descriptions had been taken aboard a Cuban seagoing vessel; that at least one of the men fitting Sullivan's and Rorke's descriptions was killed; that the name "Sullivan" was familiar in connection with detainments at both a police headquarters in Havana and a Cuban prison for political prisoners; and that a man claiming to be Sullivan in 1972 told an American private pilot detainee that he had been detained in prison for "almost 10 years," among other findings of fact.

"Defendant Republic of Cuba has intentionally, unlawfully and with complete disregard for human life caused the indeterminate, undisclosed and illegal incarceration of Mr. Sullivan, which incarceration has culminated in the legally-declared death of Mr. Sullivan and which constitutes an extrajudicial killing under applicable law," the court stated in its 2009 decision.

The court further said, "For many years, the Sullivan family, and specifically Plaintiff Sherry Sullivan, has attempted to obtain information regarding the disappearance, jailing and presumed (now legally concluded) death of her father, Mr. Sullivan. No details have been provided. Specifically, the government of Cuba has failed and refused to provide any information. As a result, the Sullivan family, and specifically Ms. Sullivan, has suffered through years of uncertainty, not really knowing what happened and whether Mr. Sullivan was alive or dead."

In an interview with VillageSoup in 2007, Sullivan said, "We feel they [Cuban government officials] know what happened to my father. The family needs closure."

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