Attorneys General of California, Michigan, Nevada, and Rhode Island, and Several Federal and State Legislators Also File Amicus Briefs in Support of Armenian-American Property Claims
WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) joined an amicus brief this week to uphold a California law that protects the property rights of Armenian-Americans who were denied life insurance benefits during and after the Armenian Genocide.
The filing follows a long and complex legal history that has included three separate and conflicting opinions from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most recent on Feb. 23, 2012, striking down the California statute, based on an unprecedented expansion of the rarely invoked doctrine of foreign affairs field preemption. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit invalidated the California law extending the statute of limitations for certain life insurance claims, because Turkey opposes references to the Armenian Genocide and the use of the term “genocide.”
Kate Nahapetian, the government affairs director of the ANCA, stated, “We want to express our deep appreciation to Attorney General of California Kamala Harris and Attorneys General Masto, Kilmartin, and Schuette for joining in our fight for justice. We also want to thank all the federal and state legislators who filed an amicus brief and all the attorneys who have given so generously of their time free of charge. We are confident that we will prevail in our fight against Munich Re [German insurance company], as they continue to aid and abet Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial.”
The ANCA joined the amicus brief in support of plaintiffs’ appeal to the Supreme Court, along with the Armenian Bar Association, 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. The team of lawyers from the law firm of Bingham McCutchen, led by partner David Balabanian, who have generously been offering free legal representation on this case for several years, filed the brief.
Appellate attorney and former Supreme Court clerk Igor Timofeyev of the law firm Paul Hastings filed the original appeal to the Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiffs in June 2012, urging the Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s recent en banc ruling. Parties interested in supporting plaintiffs’ appeal had until August 1, 2012 to file their amicus briefs.
Other 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.
A third amicus brief 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), Assembly Members Katcho Achadjian (R-33), and Anthony Portantino (D-44).
Congressman Berman, explaining his support for the brief, stated, “I stand by the Armenian-American community in their quest for justice.”
The law firm of Snell & Wilmer led by partner Mary-Christine Sungaila and attorney Seepan Parseghian provided generous pro bono assistance for the filing of the legislators’ brief.
Armenian Bar Association Chairman Garo Ghazarian stated, “The Armenian Bar Association thanks our first Chairman David Balabanian, the Bingham law firm, ANCA, and our other partners for having put together a strong brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision that parted ways with basic precedent and our nation’s fundamental approach to state sovereignty and redress for injustice. Our collective resolve is at an all time high in our pursuit of proper application of the law in this case and beyond.”
Balabanian explained, “We are asking the Supreme Court to grant a hearing and either reverse the Ninth Circuit outright or direct it to reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Arizona immigration law decision, with which the Ninth Circuit’s ruling directly conflicts.”
Leading up to the filing of the amicus briefs, the ANCA secured the support of and coordinated a team of attorneys who provided assistance and guidance in the case. The ANCA also organized a meeting with the U.S. State Department’s Legal Advisor Harold Koh to discuss the case.
The Ninth Circuit case Movsesian v. Versicherung AG involves life insurance claims dating from the Armenian Genocide era. In 2000, California passed a law that extended the statute of limitations for life insurance claims that were never paid out, in some cases because insurance companies insisted heirs produce death certificates of relatives who were murdered during the Armenian Genocide, before honoring the policies. Defendant Munich Re, a German insurance company, which is represented by Neil Soltman of Mayer Brown, has been joined by the Republic of Turkey in its attempts to strike down California’s law, claiming it is unconstitutional for states to reference the Armenian Genocide.
Claims for unpaid life insurance policies dating back to the Armenian Genocide were first brought by plaintiff’s attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan. Attorneys who have been representing plaintiffs include Mark Geragos, Brian Kabateck, and Lee Crawford Boyd.