By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
WOODLAND – A case brewing here in Yolo County Superior Court may not be quite the “international incident” that wars are fought over, or fodder for blockbuster films, but then again it may be.
When Yolo County resident Tammy Yasini was detained in Iran earlier this year, the consequence of it found its way to the Yolo County court where questions of international law – Iran and California law – in the case are intersecting with divorce laws in both jurisdictions.
At a hearing last week before Judge Stephen Mock, the attorney for plaintiff Yasini – seeking damages against her former husband Ali Haji Ghaffari stemming from his former wife’s Iran detention – argued that his client should survive defendant’s motion to demurrer and a jury trial be scheduled.
After only a short few minutes, Mock ruled that the demurrer was denied, and the parties settled on a March 9, 2020 date to proceed.
But that’s only part of the story.
According to a brief filed by Yasini’s lawyer Paul Boylan, his client – and American citizen – was divorced from the defendant in 2007 in California. The two agreed to “settle all rights and obligations between them, including all aspects of their marital rights and obligations…each of them releases the other from all liabilities, debts, and obligations of every kind.”
But despite that agreement, in September of this year, when Yasini traveled from California to visit family in Teheran, “Iranian airport officials confiscated her passport because (Ghaffari) claimed to be Plaintiff’s husband and exercised the rights of Iranian husbands to prevent their wives from leaving Iran,” according to Boylan’s pleadings.
After being held in Iran for weeks, Yasini managed to escape and return to Yolo County. She’s now seeking compensation for pecuniary and emotional injuries – among them false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress – that she claims her ex-husband is responsible for when had her “imprisoned” in Iran.
Boylan let his pleading do the talking in court. After Ghaffari’s lawyers made a statement, Boylan told the judge he had “no response.” Ghaffari’s lawyer responded, “ha,” but Judge Mock then ruled in Boylan’s favor by stating there was enough information for the case to proceed.
In fact, Boylan argues that there is a prima facie cause of action for false imprisonment because the former husband – also a resident of Yolo County and professor at UC Davis – admits that Yasini’s “personal liberty was violated.”
And therein lies the major conflict in this civil case: Does Iranian law, or California law govern this former couple – which law has authority?
Ghaffari’s lawyers do not appear to be denying that he contacted Iranian officials “informing them that he was the Plaintiff’s husband under Iranian law. As a result, Iranian officials followed their law and detained her,” according to Ghaffari’s court filings.
“Indeed, it appears…Iranian officials were operating well within Iranian law in detaining Plaintiff. As reprehensible and backwards Iranian law may seem in the context of Plaintiffs Complaint, it appears everything was done with lawful privilege under Iranian law. Plaintiff was traveling in Iran, and was therefore subject to Iranian law,” Ghaffari argued.
Boylan disagrees, noting in court filings that “Defendant seems to be arguing that he isn’t liable for imprisoning his ex-wife because it was the Iranian government that did it, not him. This argument is more than offensive. It is meritless. A person who proximately causes the false wrongful imprisonment of another person is liable for the damages the wrongful imprisonment causes.”
Yasini’s pleading charges that her former husband “by wrongfully asserting his status as Plaintiff’s husband caused the Iranian Government to prevent Plaintiff from leaving Iran, and as a result of her loss of personal liberty to travel, she suffered injuries (including being unable to get home to Yolo County to see family and go to her job).
In short, based on the Defendant’s court papers, although Yasini was imprisoned in Iran it’s lawful because it’s legal for a husband to prevent his wife from leaving Iran and, therefore, Ghaffari did not violate the law – at least Iranian law.
But Boylan, in his pleading for Yasini, said that the Yolo Court “is not obligated to honor that foreign law and can apply California law to this dispute,” explaining that while nations should respect each other’s laws, they should not when it violates California public policy.
“Any Iranian law that allows Defendant – who entered into an agreement and is subject to a California judgment ending his marital rights and extinguishing Plaintiff’s marital obligations owed to Defendant – to claim marital status and cause the Iranian government to prevent (his wife) from leaving Iran indefinitely is utterly contrary to federal and Californian principles of liberty, freedom and equality,” Boylan argues.
“Consequently, this Court can apply California law to enforce this Court’s Judgment of Dissolution, hold Defendant to the contractual promises he made in the Marital Settlement Agreement…and deny Defendant the protection of a hypothetical Iranian law that is offensive to federal and California public policy, prejudicial to recognized standards of morality and to the general interests of California citizens, including Plaintiff,” he said.