Embassy Law Web Log   
Washington, DC, USA      

FSIA and Conflict of Laws

On July 28, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the United States District Court of the District of Columbia's March 12, 2009 judgment in the matter Amir Reza Oveissi v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, et al., docket number 07-7132, stating that the District Court applied the wrong law to the plaintiff's claims because it conducted an erroneous choice-of-law analysis. The Court of Appeals finds that French law rather than California law governs the case.

In 1984, Gholam Oveissi, the plaintiff's grandfather and decorated military general under the former Shah of Iran, was assassinated in Paris by a group named Islamic Jihad. The organization was allegedly funded by the Iranian government's Ministry of Information and Security from whom the plaintiff is seeking damages under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act exemption for state sponsored terrorism, effectively stripping Iran of its immunity.

The Court of Appeals found issue with the accuracy of the District Court's application of California law and Lord Campbell's Act in determining its decision. The FSIA does not provide a choice-of-law provision but it does provide that a foreign state removed of its immunity is liable in the same manner and to the same extent as private individuals, id. at 10. Therefore, a court should apply the forum state's choice-of-law rules which the District Court had not done, the appellate court observed.

In its determination, the Court of Appeals referred to the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §145(2) to determine jurisdiction and cited these four factors: (1) the place where the injury occurred; (2) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred; (3) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties; (4) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered, id at 11.

In this case, all factors point to France, the Court held, while the interest of California, which arises solely out of the fact that the plaintiff was born and briefly resided there--for less than a year and not at the time of the attack--is slight by comparison, id. at 12.
--Stephanie Petrew, legal assistant, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington, DC.