The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts alleging that PRTaylor Enterprises LLC, a company doing business as Father & Son Moving & Storage (Father & Son), violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by failing to obtain a court order before auctioning off the entire contents of a U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant’s two storage units while he was deployed overseas.
The SCRA, which provides a wide variety of financial and housing protections to members of the military, prohibits storage companies from auctioning off servicemembers’ belongings without a court order. The lawsuit further alleges that among the Technical Sergeant’s possessions sold by Father & Son were military gear and mementos that had belonged to a cousin who was killed in military action, his grandfather’s military service medals, a dresser that was handmade by his great-grandfather, and personal photographs.
“Congress enacted the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to protect the patriots who protect all of us by serving in our nation’s armed forces. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act outlawed the kind of conduct alleged here, and for good reason. No individual or organization should be able to get away with the kind of devastation this young man suffered when he returned home from an overseas deployment and learned that many of his most valued family mementos were gone. The law protects servicemembers from losing their property, including items of great sentimental value, because of their service,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is filing this lawsuit today to ensure that this servicemember receives just compensation and to prevent this from happening to another member of our military. We must and will put an end to these unlawful business practices.”
“This servicemember was called overseas to serve our country and returned home to find his personal possessions, family heirlooms and military awards auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “That is unacceptable. We will continue to protect the rights of servicemembers who dedicate their lives to preserving our security and freedom.”
The law places the burden on moving and storage companies and other lienholders to determine whether the property in their possession belongs to a servicemember. The complaint alleges that several facts should have put Father & Son on notice that the Technical Sergeant was a servicemember, including that he told an agent of Father & Son that he was in the military. The complaint also alleges that Father & Son picked up and packed the Technical Sergeant’s belongings at Hanscom Air Force Base while he was present and wearing his U.S. Air Force uniform. The lawsuit asserts that Father & Son sent correspondence to the Technical Sergeant at his previous address of record at Hanscom Air Force Base while he was stationed overseas.
In addition to seeking damages for the servicemember, including the value of the auctioned items, the Justice Department is seeking to enjoin Father & Son from illegally auctioning off servicemembers’ possessions in the future in violation of the SCRA. The lawsuit also seeks a civil penalty.
This lawsuit resulted from a referral to the Justice Department from the U.S. Air Force. Servicemembers and their dependents who believe their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/. The department’s enforcement of the SCRA is conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country. Since 2011, the department has obtained over $474 million in monetary relief for over 120,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA. Additional information on the Justice Department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.