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Movsesian, et al. v. Victoria Versicherung AG, et al. (amicus)

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Synopsis

In Movsesian, et al. v. Victoria Versicherung AG, et al., Plaintiffs are heirs of victims of the Armenian genocide who sued German corporations for unpaid insurance benefits.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Plaintiffs’ claims could not proceed because the California procedural statute permitting their suit was preempted under the foreign affairs doctrine.  Plaintiffs petitioned for rehearing, and CCR and EarthRights International (ERI) filed an amicus brief in support of them. The Ninth Circuit panel granted rehearing and reversed its prior ruling, finding that the California statute is not preempted by the foreign affairs doctrine, but now Defendants have petitioned for rehearing en banc.  CCR and ERI filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs and opposing rehearing en banc.

Status

Defendants’ petition for rehearing en banc is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Description

In December 2003, Plaintiff Vazken Movsesian and other descendants of the Armenian genocide filed a class action against German corporations Victoria Verisherung AG and Ergo Verischerungsgruppe AG, and their parent company, Munchener Ruckverischerungs-Gesellschaft Aktiengesellschaft, for unpaid benefits from insurance policies they issued.  Their claims include breach of written contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and related claims.  The district court allowed some of Plaintiffs’ claims to proceed, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals precluded Plaintiffs’ claims by striking down the California procedural statute providing jurisdiction and extending the statute of limitations over insurance policy claims by Armenian genocide victims.  The Appellate Court found that the statute was preempted under the foreign affairs doctrine because its references to the “Armenian Genocide” contradict the U.S. Executive’s purported policy preference.  This preference, it found, was expressed in statements and letters by the Clinton and Bush II Administrations opposing proposed House resolutions referencing the Armenian Genocide, resolutions which were never brought to a vote.

On September 10, 2009, Plaintiffs petitioned the Court of Appeals for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc. 

On September 21, 2009, CCR and ERI filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs’ request for rehearing, arguing that state law should not be preempted by federal action unless it has the force of law.  Amici further argued that statements and letters do not have the force of law, unlike the Constitution, federal laws, treaties, and Executive agreements. The Ninth Circuit granted Plaintiffs' request for rehearing.

On December 10, 2010, the Ninth Circuit panel reversed itself, finding that there is no express federal policy forbidding states to use the term “Armenian Genocide,” and affirming the denial of defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint.  The Ninth Circuit granted Plaintiffs’ request for rehearing.  On January 3, 2011, Defendants filed a petition for rehearing en banc.  On February 11, 2011, CCR and ERI filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs and opposing the Defendants’ petition, arguing that the state law cannot be preempted by statements and letters because they don’t have the force of law.

CCR litigates many significant international human rights cases, including those asserting state law claims, such as Bowoto v. Chevron Corp., and Saleh v. CACI Int’l Inc.

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