(CN) – The grandson of the former chief of Iranian armed forces won reinstatement of a wrongful death lawsuit over Hezbollah’s assassination of his grandfather. The D.C. Circuit said the lower court incorrectly analyzed the case under U.S. law instead of French law.
Amir Oveissi alleged that the Islamic Republic of Iran, through the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS)and other agencies, had backed Hezbollah’s assassination of his grandfather, Gholam Oveissi.
The four-star general had been the military chief under the Shah, who was deposed in a revolutionary coup in 1979. Gholam fled the country and eventually settled in France, where he shared an apartment with his son, his daughter-in-law and their child, Amir, who had been born in California.
While in France, Gholam regularly spoke out against the revolutionary government and met with other expatriates. Although he hired a bodyguard for protection, he was shot and killed on a crowded Paris street in 1984.
Members of the terrorist group Hezbollah, then operating under the name Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the assassination.
Gholam’s grandson sued the Iranian government in 2003 for wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotion distress. Iran and MOIS provided the logistical support and training that allowed Hezbollah to carry out the assassination, an international terrorism expert testified during the bench trial.
The district court said the defendants weren’t entitled to sovereign immunity, but nonetheless dismissed Amir’s claims under California and U.S. law.
The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. reversed, saying the district court had applied the wrong country’s laws.
Although Amir is a U.S. citizen, his attorney conceded that Gholam’s assassination probably wasn’t aimed at the United States, the court noted.
“Moreover, the plaintiff’s international terrorism expert testified that assassinations like this one ‘were intended to silence the Iranian regime’s critics and to deter French intervention in Lebanon,'” Judge Garland wrote for the three-judge panel.
“Hence, if any country was the object of attack, it was France. Accordingly, all of the relevant choice-of-law factors point to the application of French law to the plaintiff’s claims.”
In reversing and remanding, the court emphasized that it was not issuing a general choice-of-law rule for terrorism cases, but was merely applying the District of Columbia’s rules to the facts of the case.