A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said restoring Saudi Arabia was necessary to be consistent with a ruling by a different 2nd Circuit panel that allowed another lawsuit to go forward in which a man sued Afghanistan and other defendants for the death of his wife in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The 2nd Circuit and a lower court had previously ruled that Saudi Arabia was protected by sovereign immunity, which generally means that foreign countries can't be sued in American courts.
But in its latest ruling, the 2nd Circuit said a legal exception existed that would allow Saudi Arabia to remain as a defendant, just as Afghanistan remained in the similar case.
"The procedural history of this case produced inconsistent results between two sets of plaintiffs suing for damages based on the same incident," the appeals court said in a decision written by Circuit Judge Chester J. Straub. "We conclude that the circumstances here are 'extraordinary' and warrant relief."
The lawsuits were brought in 2002 and afterward against countries, companies and organizations accused of aiding al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. They sought billions of dollars in damages.
In the lawsuits, lawyers argued that the Sept. 11 attacks had been planned for years by a network of Islamic militants with the assistance of banks, governments and individuals.
Lawyers in the Sept. 11 cases have frequently cited the report by the Sept. 11 Commission. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have said the commission supported their argument that Saudi Arabia had long been considered the primary source of al-Qaida funding while lawyers for Saudi Arabia have argued that the commission found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded al-Qaida.
Lawyers on both sides did not immediately return messages for comment.