California’s Armenian Genocide Law Invalid

9th Circuit CourthouseCalifornia intruded into the field of international affairs reserved for the federal government when it gave victims of the Armenian genocide more time to file claims against insurers.  A unanimous 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the California law is invalid – preempted by federal foreign affairs doctrine.

The insurance policies in question were issued between 1875 and 1923. 

In 2000 the state legislature enacted a law to extend the statute of limitations for making claims by any person of Armenian ancestry living in the Ottoman empire during 1915 to 1923, who died, was deported or escaped to avoid persecution during that period.

It would allow the descendants of people with insurance policies issued during the period to make claims against a variety of insurers.

The lawsuit filed in 2003 by Vazken Movsesian and others on behalf of descendents who could claim benefits under the insurance policies in effect between 1875 and 1923.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder in Los Angeles originally held that the state law was not preempted by the foreign affairs doctrine.  And a three-judge panel upheld her in 2010.

But the 11-judge review by the 9th Circuit has overturned Snyder’s decision.

The Constitution gives the federal government the exclusive authority to administer foreign affairs, according to the court.  Even if the federal government has no stated policy, the state law may be preempted wrote Judge Susan Graber, for the court.

Case:  Movesesian v. Versicherung AG, No. 07-56722

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