The Justice Department today announced that it reached an agreement with Los Angeles towing company Black and White Towing Inc. to resolve allegations that it illegally auctioned off an active-duty U.S. Marine’s car, 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 auctioning off a vehicle owned by a servicemember unless it first obtains an order from a court allowing it to do so.
The department’s lawsuit, which was filed today along with the settlement, alleges that Black and White illegally auctioned a U.S. Marine’s 2014 Honda Accord while the Marine was stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, California. The Marine’s car was struck by another vehicle while it was legally parked and unoccupied. Black and White towed the car to its lot in Pacoima, California. When the Marine learned that her vehicle had been towed, she contacted Black and White and told them that she was in the military and would be working with the other driver’s insurance company to retrieve the vehicle. The complaint also alleges that the Marine’s car contained her military uniform and several military awards and certificates, and Department of Motor Vehicle records indicated that she had obtained her vehicle loan through Navy Federal Credit Union. Before the insurance company could arrange to inspect or retrieve the vehicle, Black and White sold it at auction, without a court order. As a result, the Marine lost the use and ownership of the car, but still had to continue making her monthly car loan payments to Navy Federal.
Under the proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Black and White must pay $22,000 in compensation to the Marine and a $5,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury. Black and White will also be required to adopt new policies and implement new training requirements.
“When towing companies ignore their legal obligations under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, it can have serious financial consequences for servicemembers and their families,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division. “We hope this settlement encourages all towing companies to review and improve their policies and ensure that the rights of all servicemembers are honored and respected.”
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 the department’s enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at www.servicemembers.gov.