Heirs of Genocide Victims Win Court Ruling

LOS ANGELES–In a major legal setback for the New York Life Insurance Company–on November 28–2001–United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder signed and finalized her decision to deny NYLIC’s motion to dismiss in the class action lawsuit filed by Armenian plaintiffs. The decision followed a court hearing on October 30–2001–wherein Judge C. A. Snyder presented a preliminary decision of denial to the opposing counsels–pending final argumen’s–which were delivered the same day.

" The court finds that enforcement of the forum-selection clauses in the NYLIC life insurance policies which are the subject of this action would be fundamentally unfair," concluded Snyder in her thirty one page order of denial. In its motion to dismiss for improper venue–NYLIC had argued that based on the terms contained in the insurance policies all legal proceedings to enforce the policies should either be brought in " London Courts" or "Civil Courts of France." In a lengthy and elaborate rebuke the Court "finds that it would (be) fundamentally unfair to enforce the forum selection clauses contained in the NYLIC policies in the face of substantial evidence that the Armenian purchases of those policies: 1) could not travel to London or Paris; (2) could not read or understand the languages in which the policies were printed; and (3) when NYLIC has offered no evidence either that the purchasers could in fact understand the policies as written–or that the content of the policies–and specially the forum selection clauses–was communicated to the purchasers by NYLIC’s agents in Armenia."

The court was as eloquent as to the matter of the constitutionality of California Code Civil Section 354.4–entitled "The Armenian genocide Victims Insurance Act." This bill which was passed by State Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 2000–gives the right to heirs of victimized Armenian policyholder to claim for benefits from life insurance policies in California courts. In its concluding paragraph the court finds that "Section 354.4 withstands constitutional security because it does not intrude on the federal government’s foreign affairs power–is not impermissibly retroactive–does not violate the Contracts Clause–and because its application to NYLIC is consistent with the Due process Clause."

The hearing on October 30th followed extensive but futile last minute negotiations to settle the suit. Another unsuccessful attempt was made on October 26th–when–by order of Judge Snyder–plaintiff and defense counsels were summoned to a mediation. On both occasions–the plaintiff categorically rejected the offers made by NYLIC. In the past six months–settlement negotiations resulted only in a minor increase of the initial offer of $10 million–which was considered far short of the true value of the case in the eyes of the plaintiffs. Despite the revelation of evidence that policies hold by Armenia’s are worth at least $100 million by today’s value–NYLIC failed to make a good faith effort to resolve the issue. A proposition by plaintiff attorneys for a compromise settlement presented to NYLIC back in September of this year was also rejected by NYLIC.

Since the filling of this class action lawsuit in November 1999–by attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan of Glendale California–in April 2001 attorney Mark Geragos joined the team of plaintiffs attorneys as the lead counsel.

The class action lawsuit states that between 1895 and 1915–New York Life targeted ethnic Armenia’s in Turkey for the sale of life insurance policies. An estimated 7000 policies were purchased.

Many of these Armenian policyholders perished as a result of the genocidal policy perpetrated by the Turkish government against the Armenian people. Heirs of most of the New York Life policyholders who were killed in the Genocide were never paid benefits.

Among a few dozen named plaintiffs–Martin Marootian is the lead plaintiff who initiated the suit. Marootian’s uncle purchased a policy in 1910 worth 3000 FF. In June 1915–his uncle–aunt and their children were massacred. for more than 75 years the Marootian family has tried to collect the insurance benefit–to no avail.

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