(CN) – The 9th Circuit dismissed a lawsuit for insurance benefits filed by victims of the Armenian genocide. The court said the claims were trumped by the U.S. government’s refusal to use the term genocide to describe the systematic slaughter of more than 500,000 Armenians during and after World War I.
The plaintiffs, all of Armenian descent, cited a California code that gives “Armenian Genocide” victims until 2010 to file insurance claims. Their policies had been issued by two German insurers owned by Munich Re.
The district court dismissed their claims for unjust enrichment and constructive trust, but allowed the plaintiffs to sue for breach of contract.
Munich Re challenged the ruling on several fronts, including that the state law was preempted by the foreign affairs doctrine. The state code isn’t valid, Munich Re argued, because the U.S. government doesn’t officially recognize the Armenian Genocide, the term used to describe the mass killings ordered by a political party in the Ottoman Empire known as the Young Turks.
The Pasadena-based appellate panel voted 2-1 to dismiss all claims, saying they were preempted by federal foreign policy.
Senior Circuit Judge Thompson cited the Bush administration’s efforts to quash a 2007 Armenian Genocide Resolution, which sought official recognition of the genocide. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that passage of such a resolution “could harm American troops in the field, constrain our ability to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and significantly damage our efforts to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey.”
Then-President George W. Bush added that the resolution “is not the right response to these historic mass killings, and its passage would do great harm to our relations with a key ally in NATO and in the global war on terror.”
No further action was taken on the resolution.
These and other statements by top-ranking U.S. officials “clearly establish a presidential foreign policy preference against proving legislative recognition to an ‘Armenian Genocide,'” Judge Thompson noted.
“We conclude that [the California code] impermissibly infringes on the federal government’s foreign affairs power.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Pregerson argued that California has the authority to regulate genocide insurance claims.
“There is no express federal policy forbidding California from using the term ‘Armenian Genocide’ in the course of exercising its traditional authority to regulate the insurance industry,” Pregerson wrote.