By Louis M.
v. Islamic Republic of Iran, et al., 03-cv-1197 (RCL) (D.D.C. Mar. 2011) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], provides a recent example of how
choice of law can inform and in some respects determine not just the
categories but the actual quantum of damages available in a suit under the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The application of choice of law in
this context is rather specific; the rules, however, apply to a great many
types of international litigation.
Oveissi involves the efforts by the
grandson of a general and high-ranking official in Iran prior to the 1979
Iranian revolution. The grandfather fled Iran, lived briefly in the U.S.
(where the plaintiff in the suit was born), and then settled in Paris - where
he was gunned down by the Islamic Jihad, which the District Court found was "a
cell composed of members of the terrorist organization Hezbollah", a group that
was "materially supported by Iran".
The claims brought by the grandson
against Iran fell under Section 1605(a)(7) of the FSIA, which, at the time of
suit, permitted claims against sovereigns for state-sponsored terrorism but on
the basis of a "pass-through" to causes of action under state tort law.
To apply that law, the Court would have to apply a choice of law
analysis. Earlier in the case the D.C. Circuit had reversed a finding
that California law would provide the rule of decision and ruled instead that
French law would. The Circuit did not find it sufficient that the U.S.
had any "unique interest in having its domestic law apply when its citizens are
injured by state-sponsored terrorist acts", which the District Court had
earlier believed "elevates the interests of the United States to nearly their
In applying French law to the
plaintiff's claims, the Court looked to prior FSIA decisions for guidance, but
the Court also applied the categories of damages recognized under French
law. Finding that the fundamental principle that dominates the evaluation
of damages [under French law] is the principle of 'full compensation'", the
Court ignored other bases of awarding damages found under U.S. state laws, such
as retribution, deterrence, etc. The Court articulated something akin to
a contract measure of damages: "to re-establish as exactly as possible
the balance of things destroyed by the harm and to replace the victim, at the
expense of the person held liable, in the situation in which he would have been
if the harm had not occurred". Although French law would
award economic loss damages as well as damages akin to loss of companionship
and pain and suffering, loss of real property was not compensated on a finding
that the grandfather did not in fact possess those rights at the time of his
International Practice Law Blog for more analysis of international
and foreign law issues.
For more information about LexisNexis products and solutions connect with
us through our corporate site.