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Justice Department Files Suit Against Dallas, Texas, Towing Company for Unlawfully Selling Servicemember-Owned Vehicles

Gerald Scroop

September 28, 2020

The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas alleging that Dallas-based towing company United Tows LLC violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), by unlawfully auctioning off vehicles owned by SCRA-protected servicemembers. 

The SCRA, which provides a wide variety of financial protections to members of the military, prohibits towing companies from auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles or disposing of their personal property without a court order.

“When members of our military answer the call to serve our country, they should be able to do so without having to worry that their vehicles or property will be auctioned off while they are on duty,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department is filing this lawsuit to ensure that United Tows provides just compensation to the servicemembers who were harmed and to ensure that the company does not continue to engage in these unlawful sales in the future.”

“The men and women who serve in the armed forces make immense personal sacrifices to keep our country safe,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox for the Northern District of Texas. “This lawsuit is a powerful reminder that we will aggressively hold those institutions and businesses accountable who are required to comply with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Our military deserves no less.”

The lawsuit alleges that United Tows auctioned at least five vehicles in violation of the SCRA, including a Toyota Corolla that was towed while its owner was completing basic training in San Antonio, Texas. When the servicemember learned that his vehicle had been towed, he contacted United Tows and told the owner of the company that he was on active duty and that, due to military training requirements, he was unable to claim the vehicle at that time. The owner of United Tows responded by telling the servicemember that she did not believe that he was in the military. United Tows ultimately sold the vehicle without a court order while the servicemember was still completing his training requirements. 

The department’s complaint also alleges that United Tows does not have any written policies regarding SCRA compliance, and does not take any steps to determine whether the motor vehicles it auctions, sells or disposes of are owned by servicemembers.

In addition to seeking damages for the affected servicemembers, the Justice Department is asking the district court to prohibit United Tows from illegally auctioning off servicemembers’ vehicles in the future in violation of the SCRA. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties against United Tows.

This lawsuit resulted from a referral to the Justice Department from the U.S. Air Force. 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.

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