Justice Department Reinforces Federal Protections for Servicemembers and their Spouses in Letter to State Officials
The Justice Department today announced that Dallas towing company United Tows LLC has agreed to enter into a consent order to resolve allegations that it illegally sold five servicemember-owned vehicles, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
The SCRA is a federal law that provides a variety of financial and housing protections to members of the U.S. military. The law prohibits a towing company from selling a vehicle owned by a servicemember unless it first obtains a court order allowing it to do so.
The department filed a lawsuit against United Tows on Sept. 28, 2020, alleging that the company auctioned a car belonging to a man who was attending U.S. Air Force basic training in San Antonio, Texas. The complaint alleges that when the servicemember learned that his vehicle had been towed, he contacted United Tows and told them that he was out of town on active duty. According to the complaint, the owner of United Tows responded by telling the servicemember that she did not believe that he was in the military. United Tows sold the vehicle at auction without a court order while the servicemember was still completing his training requirements.
A subsequent investigation by the department revealed that United Tows had illegally sold at least four other vehicles owned by active duty servicemembers between Oct. 4, 2014, and April 26, 2019.
Under the proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, United Tows must adopt new policies and implement new training requirements. United Tows will also be required to pay a total of $50,000: $20,000 in compensation to the originally identified servicemember; a $20,000 fund to be shared by the four additional servicemembers; and a $10,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
“United Tows not only disregarded the legal rights of servicemembers, it made hurtful and dismissive comments about a member’s military service,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The members of our armed forces selflessly devote themselves to the defense of our nation and are deserving of our respect and utmost consideration. The Department of Justice remains committed to the vigorous enforcement of the SCRA and all other laws that protect our servicemembers.”
“United Tows violated a victim’s rights while he was selflessly serving his country,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah for the Northern District of Texas. “We were appalled to learn that this Airman came home from basic training to find his car sold at auction. The men and women of our armed forces represent the best among us, and we are proud to enforce the SCRA and other laws designed to protect them.”
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations can be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/.
The Justice 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 department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.