The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia alleging that Steve’s Towing Inc. in Virginia Beach, Virginia, violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by failing to obtain court orders before auctioning off vehicles belonging to at least seven SCRA-protected servicemembers, including two vehicles belonging to a member of a Navy Seal team who was deployed overseas. The SCRA, which provides a variety of financial and housing protections to members of the military, prohibits towing companies from auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles without a court order.
Federal law requires towing companies to determine whether a vehicle in their possession belongs to a servicemember. The complaint alleges that several facts should have put Steve’s Towing on notice that the Navy Seal’s vehicles belonged to a servicemember, including that the vehicles were towed from a military base and one contained a duffel bag filled with military uniforms.
“The flagrant disregard of a law designed to protect the rights of those in military service will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice is taking action to ensure that all servicemembers harmed by unscrupulous actions receive just compensation. We must put an end to unlawful business practices that bring harm and distress to those selflessly serving in our armed forces.”
In addition to seeking damages for the Navy Seal and the other affected servicemembers, the Justice Department is requesting a court order preventing Steve’s Towing from illegally auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles in the future. The lawsuit also seeks a civil penalty.
This lawsuit is the result of a coordinated effort between the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. The complaint contains allegations only; there has been no determination of civil liability.
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 $476 million in monetary relief for over 121,000 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.