Ninth Circuit Rules No Federal Policy Regarding Armenian Genocide

by Roger Alford

The Ninth Circuit this week ruled that there was no federal policy with respect to the Armenian Genocide, thereby allowing insurance claims brought by Armenian nationals under a California statute to go forward. In Movsesian v. Victoria Versicherung AG, the Ninth Circuit distinguished Garamendi, concluding that there was no federal policy against recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, “[c]onsidering the number of expressions of federal executive and legislative support for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and federal inaction in the face of explicit state support for such recognition, we cannot conclude that a clear, express federal policy forbids the state of California from using the term ‘Armenian Genocide'” in the statute.

The interesting wrinkle in the case is that in August 2009 the same panel came out precisely the opposite. As Michael Ramsey discusses at length here, that panel bizarrely ruled that the failure to recognize the genocide in formal legislation was a federal pronouncement sufficient to preempt state law. On petition for rehearing, that opinion was withdrawn, and now Judge Nelson has reversed herself, siding with Judge Pregerson.

I consulted on the case on behalf of Movsesian, and I have no doubt that the Ninth Circuit got this one right. In light of Medellin‘s limitation on Garamendi, it was truly astonishing to hold that inchoate federal policies were enough to preempt state laws.

In related news, as reported here, “three descendants of Armenians who lost their property in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Turkish government and two Turkish banks for restitution of more than $63 million for acreage that includes the strategic Incirlik Air Base used by the U.S. military.” Lee Boyd and Michael Bazyler are working with Vartkes Yeghiayan on behalf of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ press release is here.

The timing of the complaint could not have been better. It comes just days after the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Movsesian and two weeks before the California Armenian genocide law extending the statute of limitations was set to expire.

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