The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida alleging that Target Recovery Towing Inc. and Target Recovery & Transport Inc. (together “Target”) violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), by failing to obtain a court order before auctioning off a car belonging to a U.s. Marine Corps Sergeant who was deployed overseas.
The SCRA, which provides a wide variety of financial and housing protections to members of the military, prohibits towing companies from auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles without a court order.
The law places the burden on towing 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 Target on notice that the owner of the vehicle was a servicemember, including that the Marine Corps Sergeant’s car had at least one military decal, military documents were in the car, her address of record was at a U.S. Marine Corps Base, and she obtained her vehicle loan through Navy Federal Credit Union.
“Imagine returning home after honorably serving your country only to find that your sole means of transportation and its contents are gone and lost to you forever as a result of a towing company’s callous disregard of the law,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to protecting the rights of the men and women in our Armed Forces, and putting a stop to these unlawful business practices.”
“The law is clear and unequivocal,” said Maria Chapa Lopez, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. “We owe it to all military servicemembers to vigorously protect their rights while they are deployed protecting our rights and our freedom.”
In addition to seeking damages for the servicemember, including the value of the auctioned vehicle and its contents, the Justice Department is seeking to enjoin Target from illegally auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles in the future in violation of the SCRA. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties against the defendants.
This lawsuit resulted from a referral to the Justice Department from the United States Marine Corps. 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.