WASHINGTON, D.C. –
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) created another action by federal enforcers.
Last week, the Justice Department reached an agreement with ASAP Towing & Storage Co. (ASAP) in Jacksonville, Fla., to resolve allegations that ASAP violated a federal law and the SCRA by auctioning off or otherwise disposing of vehicle owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders.
Under the agreement, ASAP must pay up to $99,500 to compensate servicemembers whose vehicles were unlawfully auctioned off while they were in military service. ASAP must also pay a $20,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury.
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, resolves a suit filed by the Justice Department in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
“This case began with a member of the U.S. Navy who returned home from an overseas deployment in service to his country, only to find that a towing company had auctioned off his sole means of transportation,” said assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.
“The Justice Department must protect his rights just as he is protecting ours,” Dreiband continued in a news release. “We appreciate that the company has worked cooperatively with us to reach a settlement that will compensate all of the servicemembers whose vehicles were taken from them.”
The department launched its investigation after becoming aware of a complaint by a U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade, alleging that ASAP had towed and auctioned his 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser without obtaining the court order required by the SCRA, while he was deployed aboard a naval submarine.
The department’s complaint alleged that the Lieutenant’s vehicle had a military installation parking decal and contained “welcome aboard” documents for the naval submarine.
The department’s investigation revealed that between 2013 and 2020, ASAP auctioned multiple other vehicles registered to SCRA-protected servicemembers without obtaining the required court orders.
Officials said the settlement requires ASAP to adopt new procedures to investigate the military status of any registered owner prior to auctioning a vehicle. They added that ASAP will also be required to obtain a court order or a valid SCRA waiver prior to auctioning a vehicle owned by a protected servicemember.
“I am pleased that we were able to protect our servicemembers who are serving overseas by reaching a settlement with the ASAP Towing & Storage Company,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida. “When servicemembers are deployed, and in harm’s way, fighting for our country, they should be able to find their personal vehicles where they left them when they return home.”
The department’s enforcement of the SCRA was conducted by the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout the country.
Since 2011, officials said the department has obtained more than $474 million in monetary relief for more than 120,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA.