Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The meaning of "OF": The First Circuit Hears Oral Arguments in Rubin v. Iran

The First Circuit Court of Appeals today heard arguments about the meaning of the word "of" in the case of Rubin v. Iran.  The Rubin plaintiffs wish to seize "property of Iran" after receiving a multi-million dollar court judgment holding that country responsible for injuries caused by a terrorist attack.  The litigants have been unable to obtain payment; therefore, they seek to execute the judgment by taking ancient Iranian cultural artifacts housed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and the Harvard museums.  After losing their case in the lower federal district court, the plaintiffs appealed.

The attorney for the plaintiffs/appellants told the judges today, "We don't really care, frankly, whether or not the property actually belongs to Iran." explaining "All we care about is whether the property is 'of Iran.'"  "What does the word 'of'' mean?," counsel asked.  He answered that "...the word 'of' does not always mean possession."

Harvard's counsel countered that the basic, longstanding rule is that judgment creditors bear the burden to prove that property belongs to a judgment debtor before it can be seized.  Counsel objected to the notion that a judgement potentially could be satisfied against an innocent third party rather than the actual wrongdoer, Iran.  MFA's counsel said that the artifacts "are no longer associated with Iran," so they are not the property of Iran.  Indeed, Iran has never made any claim of ownership to the museum artifacts, counsel argued.

The United States presented argument as well to say, inter alia, that "of" means "belonging to."

In a rebuttal argument, counsel for the plaintiffs/appellants questioned whether the museums actually hold the cultural artifacts legally, saying that the museums have "done almost nothing to verify that ... their assets are properly received."  "At some point an inference is created .. that these assets are not here properly," counsel alleged.

Issues of  statute of limitations, adverse possession, preemption, the terms of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), and more were also discussed.  The full audio of the court session can be found by clicking here.  A summary of many written arguments made by the plaintiffs/appellants are found here, while the appellant museums' written arguments can be found here.


This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com