[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that heirs of victims of the Armenian genocide [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Turkey cannot sue German insurance companies for failed life insurance payments from German insurance companies. Descendants of the genocide victims residing in California brought the suit nearly a decade ago, following the passing of a California law [text] in 2000 extending the statute of limitations for unpaid life insurance claims. The Ninth Circuit found
California Civil Procedure Code § 354.4 unconstitutional [JURIST report] in August 2009 because it interfered with foreign relations by recognizing the World War I-era killings of more than one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers as a genocide. The court reinstated the suit in December 2010 but decided in November to rehear the case en banc [JURIST reports]. The court held on Thursday that the state law impedes on the federal government’s power to regulate foreign affairs:
In conclusion, section 354.4 expresses a distinct point of view on a specific matter of foreign policy. Its effect on foreign affairs is not incidental; rather, section 354.4 is, at its heart, intended to send a political message on an issue of foreign affairs by providing relief and a friendly forum to a perceived class of foreign victims. Nor is the statute merely expressive. Instead, the law imposes a concrete policy of redress for “Armenian Genocide victim[s],” subjecting foreign insurance companies to suit in California by overriding forum-selection provisions and greatly extending the statute of limitations for a narrowly defined class of claims. Thus, section 354.4 “has a direct impact upon foreign relations and may well adversely affect the power of the central government to deal with those problems.” … Section 354.4 therefore intrudes on the federal government’s exclusive power to conduct and regulate foreign affairs.
In response to the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America [advocacy website] expressed disappointment and pledged to continue working toward a “principled US policy in support of a truthful, just, and comprehensive resolution of the Armenian Genocide.”
The Armenian genocide remains a contentious issue in US law and politics. In August 2010, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] unanimously dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the exclusion of materials questioning the Armenian genocide from a school curriculum. In March 2010, the Obama administration announced its opposition to a resolution [JURIST report] labeling the World War I-era killings as genocide. The announcement came after the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the resolution [JURIST report] by a vote of 23-22. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan condemned the resolution, and the Turkish government recalled its ambassador to the US.