The Justice Department today announced that Target Recovery Towing Inc. (Target) has agreed to enter into a court-enforceable consent order to resolve allegations that it failed to obtain a legally required court order before auctioning off a car belonging to a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant who was deployed overseas.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Target on Aug. 18, 2020, alleging that the auction violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Under the proposed consent order, which is still subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Target must adopt new policies, pay the Marine $17,500, and pay a $2,500 civil penalty to the United States.
The SCRA, which provides a wide variety of financial and housing protections to members of the military, prohibits towing companies from auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles without a court order. The law places the burden on towing companies and other lienholders to determine whether the property in their possession belongs to a servicemember. The complaint alleges that several facts should have put Target on notice that the owner of this particular vehicle was a servicemember, including that the Marine’s car had at least one military decal, military documents were in the car, her address of record was at a U.S. Marine Corps base, and she obtained her vehicle loan through Navy Federal Credit Union.
“This settlement should send a clear message that the Justice Department will not tolerate the illegal taking of servicemembers’ vehicles,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the department’s Civil Rights Division. “Servicemembers must be able to count on their country to protect their rights, and we are committed to doing just that.”
“I am pleased that we were able to reach a swift and effective resolution to this matter. The SCRA exists to protect the brave men and women of our Armed Forces serving overseas and minimize undue financial burdens associated with military deployments,” said Maria Chapa Lopez, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. “We will continue to aggressively hold accountable those businesses and institutions who are required to comply with the Act. Our brave servicemembers deserve nothing less.”
This lawsuit resulted from a referral to the Justice Department from the U.S. Marine Corps. 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 $474 million in monetary relief for over 120,000 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.