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Aghaian v. Minassian

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

February 17, 2015

SEDA GALSTIAN AGHAIAN et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
SHAHEN MINASSIAN, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC498691 Kevin Brazile, Judge.

Page 428

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 429

COUNSEL

Horvitz & Levy, Mitchell C. Tilner, Steven S. Fleischman; Ervin Cohen & Jessup and Allan B. Cooper for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

John Derrick for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

BIGELOW, P. J.

Seda Galstian Aghaian, Aida Galstian Norhadian, and Andranik Galstian (Plaintiffs) challenge the trial court’s order staying this action on the ground of forum non conveniens. The trial court found the matter to be more appropriately heard in Iran. The sole issue on appeal is whether Iran is a suitable alternative forum. It is not. Thus, we reverse the court’s order.

Page 430

FACTS

Plaintiffs are the children and heirs of Gagik Galstian and Knarik Galstian.[1] Gagik and Knarik owned a number of properties in Iran, but were forced to abandon them in September 1978, when the family fled to Los Angeles after the overthrow of the Shah. In or about 1991, the Galstians learned they could recover their properties through a man named Jalinous, who was their friend and a lawyer in Iran. To that end, Gagik executed a series of powers of attorney naming Jalinous and others as his attorneys in fact over the properties in Iran. In February of 1996, the Iranian government issued a written ruling to allow Gagik and his family to enter and leave Iran, reclaim all of their properties, and freely engage in property transactions. The parties then began the process of reclaiming and selling Gagik’s properties.

By mid-2003, defendants Shahen Minassian and Nader Izadi held the powers of attorney for the remaining properties. They executed a general quitclaim deed transferring all of Gagik’s remaining properties to themselves for little or no consideration in 2008. Minassian also deeded to himself at least one, and possibly more, of Knarik’s properties. Gagik discovered the transfers on or about January 7, 2010, and demanded that title be returned to him. Gagik then hired an Iranian attorney in February 2010, who pressed criminal charges against Minassian in Iran relating to certain properties. In a separate proceeding in 2012, another Iranian lawyer representing Gagik obtained a copy of the 2008 general quitclaim deed granting all of Gagik’s property to Minassian and Izadi. Gagik and Knarik died in 2012.

Plaintiffs filed suit against Minassian and Izadi in the instant action on January 7, 2013, alleging the above facts and asserting causes of actions for breach of fiduciary duty, accounting, and conversion. Plaintiffs sought monetary damages and injunctive relief. Minassian moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, stay the action based on forum non conveniens. Minassian argued the Iranian civil court provides a suitable forum for an action brought by Iranian citizens against Iranian citizens, involving a dispute over real properties located in Iran. Further, the trial court lacks the power to enforce an order directing the transfer of real property in Iran and lacks jurisdiction over Izadi, who resides in Iran and has indicated he will not submit to the jurisdiction of a California court. The trial court stayed the action pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 410.30, ...


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