Federal appeals court revives suit over Iran assassination

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that a lawsuit against Iran over the 1984 assassination of former chief of the Iranian armed forces Gholam Oveissi in France by Hezbollah [JURIST news archive] may proceed. The suit was brought by Oveissi's grandson, who alleged that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) funded and directed Hezbollah. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] found [opinion, PDF] that Iran and MOIS were liable for Oveissi's murder, but rejected the plaintiff's claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death, applying California law, which barred the claim, because the plaintiff was born in California citizen. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision, finding that French law should apply because the assassination took place in France:


We have no doubt that the United States has a strong interest in applying its domestic law to terrorist attacks on its nationals, especially when ... the attacks are "by reason of their nationality." But Gholam Oveissi was not an American national; nor has the plaintiff suggested that the defendants knew Oveissi had an American grandchild or that the United States or its nationals were in any other way the object of the attack. To the contrary, plaintiff's counsel conceded at oral argument that there is no evidence that Oveissi's assassination was intended to affect the United States. 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." Hence, if any country was the object of the 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.

The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Oveissi served as chief of the Iranian armed forces under the Shah until the government was deposed by revolutionaries in 1979. Oveissi and his family fled to the US and then to France. His grandson was born during their short stay in California. Oveissi was assassinated in Paris in 1984 by Hezbollah, operating as Islamic Jihad.


 

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