Samuel F. Wright

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Director, Service Members Law Center
(800) 809-9448, ext. 730
Email: swright@roa.org
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Law Review 1248

LAW REVIEW 1248

May 2012

DOJ Settles SCRA Case Against Norfolk Towing Company

By Captain Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

4.6—Eviction and Foreclosure Protection

4.9—SCRA Enforcement

“A person holding a lien on the property or effects of a servicemember may not, during any period of military service of the servicemember and for 90 days thereafter, foreclose or enforce any lien on such property or effects without a court order granted before foreclosure or enforcement.” 

Title 50, United States Code Appendix, section 537(a)(1) [50 U.S.C. App. 537(a)(1)].

“A person who knowingly takes an action contrary to this section, or attempts to do so, shall be fined as provided in title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.”

50 U.S.C. App. 537(c).

On May 1, 2012, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had settled a lawsuit that it had filed against B.C. Enterprises, Inc. (doing business as Aristocrat Towing).  In the lawsuit, DOJ had alleged that the company had violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) when it towed and sold the vehicles belonging to active duty service members without obtaining court orders, as required by 50 U.S.C. App. 537(a)(1).  The settlement provides $75,000 in damages to the 26 aggrieved service members, and it also requires the company to provide credit repair services to those members.

This case began when Lieutenant Yahya Jaboori, USN, returned from a deployment to Iraq and learned that the company had towed and sold his vehicle while he was deployed.  He sought assistance from the legal assistance office at the Naval Legal Service Office in Norfolk, and that office referred the matter to DOJ.  The other 25 affected service members were identified later.

If you need assistance regarding the SCRA or other laws, you should start the process by making an appointment with a legal assistance attorney.  Go to http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php.  This service is operated by the Air Force, but it includes legal assistance offices for all the services, even the Coast Guard.  The website will show you, from your zip code, the nearest military legal assistance offices.  You must call and make an appointment, because military legal assistance attorneys will not provide legal assistance by telephone.  You can make an appointment at the office that is most convenient for you, even if is of a different service.  Please see Law Review 125 for more information about the kinds of services that are available through military legal assistance offices.[1]

Within DOJ, responsibility for enforcing the SCRA is assigned to the Civil Rights Division, which is headed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez.  The DOJ press release quotes Mr. Perez as follows:

Servicemembers make great personal sacrifices.  We will ensure that the rights of the brave men and women who serve and protect us are protected at home.  This settlement sends a strong messages to businesses nationwide that the Justice Department will enforce the SCRA to protect against the taking of servicemembers’ property without first seeking court orders as is required by law.

Businesses around the country need to be familiar with the SCRA, because some of the folks the business deals with will be active duty service members, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.  Such knowledge is especially important in a place like Norfolk, which is home to most of the ships of the United States Atlantic Fleet.



[1] I invite the reader’s attention to www.servicemembers-lawcenter.org.  You will find 748 articles about the SCRA and other laws that are particularly pertinent to those who serve our country in uniform, along with a detailed Subject Index and a search function, to facilitate finding articles about very specific topics.  I initiated this column in 1997, and we add new articles each week.