The grandson of a murdered Iranian general won a reprieve today in a Washington appeals court, which found his suit against Iran is entitled to additional hearings. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the dismissal of the suit and told the lower court to take a look at French law.
Gen. Gholam Ali Oveissi was assassinated on a crowded street in Paris in 1984. Members of Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the shooting. Two decades later his grandson, Amir Reza Oveissi, sued the Iranian government and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security for an alleged state-sponsored terrorist act. The grandson’s suit, filed in June 2003 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed Oveissi’s suit in 2007, holding among other things that the grandfather, if he had survived, could not have brought an action under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because he was a citizen of Iran, not the United States. Lamberth also concluded that the grandson lacked standing to proceed under California law. Oveissi, 30, was born in California.
Oveissi’s “effort to hold Iran accountable for its sponsorship of terrorist crimes reflects great steadfastness of character, and the court commends his courage in pursuing this litigation,” Lamberth wrote in his opinion. Iran is culpable in the “brutal murder” of Oveissi’s grandfather, the judge wrote. “Sadly, however, damages are unavailable to plaintiff under the laws of the United States.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard argument in the case March 12 before Judges Merrick Garland, Judith Rogers and Janice Rogers Brown. Oveissi’s lawyer, James Spertus of Los Angeles, said the fatal shooting intentionally and directly caused emotional distress to immediate family members, including his client. Spertus argued that Lamberth misconstrued the application of California law to the case.
The D.C. Circuit found that French law, not California law, governs the claims brought by Oveissi, who was living in France at the time of his grandfather’s murder. “We leave it to the district court on remand to evaluate the plaintiff’s claims under French law,” Garland wrote in today’s opinion. Click here for a copy.
Spertus said he was pleased with the appellate court ruling. No lawyer for Iran ever made an appearance in the case.