- Jared Hartman, Esq.
- Posted on February 20, 2015
The U.S. Servicemembers Civil Relief Act at 50 U.S.C.S Appx. §537 prohibits anyone from enforcing a lien sale or executing a repossession lien—without first obtaining a court order—upon the property or effects of members of the armed forces during deployment and up to 90 days after return from service. The goal for such a prohibition is so that the servicemember can dutifully serve his or her country with honor, and without having to carry the stress and anxiety over whether their property back home will be safe and secure. A violation of this prohibition is a misdemeanor crime, and can be punishable by up to one year in custody and fines. Additionally, a servicemember whose rights have been violated can pursue a civil lawsuit against the violator and recover damages sustained as a result of the violation in addition to attorneys’ fees and costs of pursuing litigation.
A lawsuit recently filed by Semnar & Hartman, LLP alleges that a vehicle auto-body shop called Pro Custom in Oceanside, California violated this very prohibition. The Complaint can be read by clicking HERE
This lawsuit alleges that Pro Custom promised to hold the servicemember’s car during his period of deployment and promised to safely store the vehicle until his return from deployment. The servicemember then left for approximately 7 months of deployment only to find out upon his return that the vehicle had been sold through a non-judicial lien sale. The lawsuit alleges that Pro Custom sold the vehicle to recover only $2,200.00 for services, and even though the vehicle was worth approximately $14,000.00 the servicemember has not been provided with any finances that would make up the difference between the amount Pro Custom sold the vehicle for and what Pro Custom claimed was owed to them. Even after the member inquired as to why Pro Custom sold the vehicle after they promised to safely hold it upon his return, Pro Custom claimed he abandoned the vehicle and still failed to provide him with any proceeds from the sale.
The lawsuit further alleges that Pro Custom has been continuing to take out of the servicemember’s bi-weekly paychecks money for services performed on credit prior to the member’s deployment, even though Pro Custom seized the property when they sold the vehicle and has recovered any finances alleged to be owed to them for the services on credit by keeping all of the proceeds of the sale. The lawsuit alleges that this conduct is a violation of the California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, for unfair and oppressive conduct, misrepresentations and false statements as to what Pro Custom is owed, and for taking action that cannot legally be taken.
The lawsuit is seeking actual damages for the servicemember for the loss of the value of the vehicle, loss of use of the vehicle, emotional distress and mental anguish for not having a vehicle for the past 10 months and having to beg for rides from friends to attend his physical therapy sessions for an injury sustained during deployment, recovery of all monies taken by Pro Custom for the services previously performed on credit, recovery of all monies the member has paid to the vehicle financier since his return from deployment, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. Moreover, because Pro Custom regularly advertises to military members and claims to “Support our Troops”, this lawsuit is also seeking punitive damages as a means for punishing them for their egregious unlawful conduct and to prevent future abuses against other military members.
If you or a loved one are deployed or about to be deployed, please know that you have rights when it comes to your property. Please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and whether your rights may have been violated.