Justice Department Reaches Settlement With City of San Antonio for Illegally Auctioning Servicemembers' Vehicles
The Justice Department today announced that it has reached an agreement with the City of San Antonio, Texas to resolve allegations that the city violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by auctioning or otherwise disposing of cars owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders.
Under the agreement, San Antonio must pay $47,000 to compensate two servicemembers who complained that the city unlawfully auctioned off their cars while they were in military service. The city must also establish a $150,000 settlement fund to compensate other servicemembers whose SCRA rights may have been violated and pay a $62,029 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, resolves a suit filed today by the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
“Servicemembers who serve our country honorably should not have to come home to find that that their only means of transportation and its contents have been auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that the city has worked cooperatively with the department to reach a settlement that will compensate all the servicemembers who lost their vehicles and will provide additional protections for the thousands of servicemembers stationed in and around San Antonio.”
“I am proud that our office was able to reach a settlement with the City of San Antonio to protect servicemembers who are deployed overseas,” said U.S. Attorney John Bash for the Western District of Texas. “When servicemembers are fighting for our country, they should not have to worry that their vehicles will be gone when they return home.”
The department launched its investigation after receiving a complaint from U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Paula Rangel, alleging that the city had towed and auctioned her vehicle while she was deployed to Afghanistan. After learning that her vehicle had been impounded at the city’s Growdon Road Vehicle Storage Facility, Staff Sergeant Rangel and her military legal assistance attorney called the facility on several occasions to try to arrange for the release of her vehicle. During these phone calls, they identified Staff Sergeant Rangel as an active duty servicemember who was deployed overseas. Despite these efforts, employees at the storage facility refused to release the vehicle to members of Staff Sergeant Rangel’s military unit and would not allow them to remove her personal property and military equipment from the vehicle. On Sept. 21, 2016, the city, through its contractual agent, UR Vehicle Management Solutions, sold the vehicle at auction for $6,600, without obtaining the court order required by the SCRA.
The department’s investigation revealed that between 2011 and 2019, San Antonio auctioned at least 227 vehicles registered to SCRA-protected servicemembers without obtaining the required court orders. In some cases, the city auctioned vehicles that listed the name of a military installation as a part of the registered owner’s address. The settlement requires San Antonio to adopt new procedures to investigate the military status of any registered owner prior to auctioning a vehicle. The city will also be required to obtain a court order or a valid SCRA waiver prior to auctioning a vehicle owned by a protected servicemember.
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. For more information about the department’s SCRA enforcement efforts, please visit www.servicemembers.gov.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their rights under SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil/.