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Monday, March 16, 2015

Department of Justice Files Suit Against Storage Company for Unlawfully Selling Service Members' Belongings

The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to recover damages from a storage company that allegedly violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) when it sold service members’ personal property without obtaining the necessary court orders.  The defendants in this lawsuit are Daniel E. Homan and Horoy Inc., doing business as Across Town Movers—a San Diego, California, storage company.  Homan is the President and sole owner of Horoy Inc. 

The SCRA protects the rights of service members while on active duty by suspending or modifying certain civil obligations.  The law states that a storage lien may not be enforced against service members during, or 90 days subsequent to, their period of military service without a court order.  The Department of Justice’s complaint alleges that, since 2011, Across Town Movers sold the personal property of 11 service members without obtaining a required court order. 

The complaint further alleges that after illegally selling one of the service member’s personal property, Across Town Movers continued to receive regular payments from the United States for storage of the sold property.  That service member is U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas E. Ward.

In 2006, Master Chief Ward, a 30-year veteran, was deployed overseas.  He placed his valuable car parts and many household items into storage, and entrusted Across Town Movers to keep his personal property safe until he returned.  Just before he returned home, he learned that Across Town Movers had auctioned all of his stored personal property, including vintage original car parts. 

“Federal law does not allow storage companies to sell the contents of a service member’s storage lot without a court order,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “Storage companies should check the Defense Department’s military database and other resources before conducting any auction to see if the customer is protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and we will continue to devote time and resources to make sure that they are given the legal protections they deserve.”

“Service members, especially when deployed overseas, should be able to focus on protecting our county and shouldn’t have to worry about losing their personal property,” said U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy of the Southern District of California.  “Congress enacted the SCRA for this purpose, and we will pursue all appropriate remedies to ensure that our service members’ rights are protected.  Whether large or small, businesses will be held accountable for violating those rights.”

In addition to seeking damages for the value of the auctioned goods, the SCRA provides for civil monetary penalties of up to $55,000 for the first offense and $110,000 for each subsequent offense.  The Department of Justice will also seek injunctive relief.

This lawsuit was filed today in the Southern District of California.  This matter resulted from a referral to the Justice Department by the U.S. Navy. 

Service members and their dependents who believe that 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/content/locator.php.  Additional information on the Justice Department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting service members is available at www.servicemembers.gov.

This matter is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dylan M. Aste and Leslie M. Gardner of the Southern District of California.

Servicemembers Initiative
Updated August 5, 2015