Supreme Court Will Not Review Armenian Genocide-Era Insurance Claims Case

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court today announced that it will not review a Ninth Circuit Court decision that struck down a California law extending the statute of limitations on Armenian Genocide-era insurance claims cases, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case lets stand a lower court decision that effectively prevents U.S. citizens from pursuing redress for unpaid insurance claims by using the rarely invoked foreign affairs pre-emption doctrine.  Plaintiffs challenged that assertion in a May 24th brief, filed by lead appellate attorney Igor Timofeyev, calling it “a revolutionary proposition [by the U.S. government] that states lack all authority to enact legislation concerning their citizens’ private claims if they originate in events that occurred abroad.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney and Armenian-Americans group expressed dismay about the Supreme Court decision and a commitment to continue efforts to secure justice for genocide-era victims and their heirs.

“Although we are disappointed the Court did not grant certiorari in this case, the proper scope of the foreign affairs preemption doctrine is an important issue that we believe the Court will end up examining in the future,” explained plaintiffs’ lead attorney Igor Timofeyev, Esq. of Paul Hastings LLP.

“The refusal of the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision does not mean Armenian Americans are without avenues of redress and we will not be deterred from pursuing what even the Solicitor General and lower courts have recognized as unremedied claims,” explained ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian.

Bingham McCutcheon LLP partner David Balabanian made clear that “this case concerned the balance between federal and state authority in matters affecting foreign relations, not the propriety of recognition and redress for the evils visited upon Turkey’s Armenians by the last Ottoman rulers and denied by their successors.” Balabanian represented a series of human rights and public policy groups, including the Armenian Bar Association, Armenian National Committee of America, Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation, Inc., Genocide Education Project, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Center for the Study of Law & Genocide, and the International Human Rights Clinic of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, in filing an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs’ position earlier in the process.

“Today, the Republic of Turkey was permitted to infringe upon and strike at the core of our states’ principal foundations of enacting good laws and good aims,” explained Garo Ghazarian, Esq., chairman of the Armenian Bar Association.

The Armenian Genocide-era insurance claims case has traveled a long and complex legal path, which has included three separate and conflicting opinions from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most recent on Feb. 23, 2012. That decision struck down the California law extending the statute of limitations for certain life insurance claims based on an unprecedented expansion of the rarely invoked doctrine of foreign affairs field preemption. Defendant Munich Re, a German insurance company, is represented by Neil Soltman of Mayer Brown’s Los Angeles office.

Plaintiffs’ petition to the Supreme Court to hear the case was filed by Igor Timofeyev of Paul Hastings, LLP.  Claims for unpaid life insurance policies dating back to the Armenian Genocide were first brought by plaintiffs’ attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan.  Attorneys who have been representing plaintiffs include Lee Crawford Boyd, Rajika Shah, Mark Geragos, and Brian Kabateck.

Among the parties supporting plaintiffs’ appeal were California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was joined by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Attorneys General Masto and Kilmartin had also joined Attorney General Harris on a previous amicus brief, when it was before the Ninth Circuit.

Leading up to the filing, the ANCA had organized a citizen campaign to engage attorneys general from across the country about the importance of this case and defending Armenian-American property claims.  An amicus brief also was filed by several federal and state legislators, including Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who was a lead author of the California statute at issue when she was a California State Senator, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Representatives David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). Members of the legislature of the State of California who joined the brief were Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, Majority Leader of the Assembly Charles Calderon (D-58), Senator Kevin de León (D-22), and Assembly Members Katcho Achadjian (R-33) and Anthony Portantino (D-44).

A series of amicus briefs were filed in support of the plaintiffs’ petition including a filing by U.S. federal and state legislators, filed by attorneys Mary-Christine Sungaila and Seepan Parseghian at the firm of Snell and Willmer, LLP.

The complete set of filings can be viewed at http://www.anca.org/legal/insuranceclaims.

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13 Comments

  1. Is this a surprise to anyone? Does anyone remember anything positive done by the US government in favor of Armenians? I am not talking about lip service, I am talking about tangible actions.

  2. with Erdogan’s friend Obama in the White House, this decision was to be expected. It’s amazing that the Federal govt interferes in private claims.

    • Actually, the Supreme Court asked the US Solicitor General to present the federal government’s position. These requests are typical and remember that at the Supreme Court level, the case is never just a “private claim” because of the broader implications of the top court’s ruling.

  3. Armenians should have patience and keep fighting for their rights, presidents go and come, Judges go and come, but Armenians will be around for some time to come, and justice will prevail.

  4. I remember a case similar to this involving Nazi Germany and the Jews that were persecuted. They got their right to file claims. I find it very interesting that the same did not apply to Armenian claims. Typical though. The govt give us lip service all the time and has never done anything to help us. They are in bed with Turkey. I remember President Obama, when he was campaiging the first time, promised to address the Armenian Genocide issue but once he was elected the first offical trip he took was to Turkey to kiss up to them. Just disgusting and deplorable about how the US has treated the Armenians. It has gone on right from day one when Ambassador Morganthau first reported it. Nothing was done then and nothing is still be done to right the wrongs.

  5. I’m sorry to say it but I think if this were a Jewish issue it would have been more successful in the Supreme Court rather than being passed off so easily. The Armenians need to make themselves of greater value to the United States. I believe there are many unseen anti-Armenian factors working fervently in the background, what some (Turks and others) call ‘back room politics,’ Supreme Court or not…

  6. Mardehros, you think?!!!! Jews are in control of the government, the courts, media and the banks what do you expect? Armenians are in control of nothing.

    In this case the insurance companies with their deep pockets have easily influenced the government and the courts. As they say all politicians believe in the “Golden Rule”. Which is “Those who have the Gold make the rules”.

  7. Why is it that Armenians always get screwed? Is there any way to change it? This is really another huge slap in the face for Armenians, who see almost every day in the news, how the US bends over backwards to help certain groups recoup their stolen properties that were taken abroad in places like Germany, Austria, France, etc. or to receive compensation for such thefts.

    Maybe all of those can now be declared illegal, because this decision says that the US has no right to interfere? I’d like to see the US ask the victims of the holocaust to give their properties back to the thieves – yeah, right.

    • because Armenians by nature are smarter and more crafty then our enemy yet also by nature we are much more human and not as vile and evil as our enemy is.

  8. Good comment Karekin. Armenians should contact and maintain contact with their Representative and Senators. That’s how the Jews do it, let them know what you need/want and that you vote for them and that you care about such matters.
    Fredrik Fuller’s comment is recognized and appreciated.

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