Justice Department Settles with Florida Towing Company it Alleges Illegally Sold or Scrapped Servicemembers’ Vehicles
September 10, 2020
The Justice Department today reached an agreement with ASAP Towing & Storage Company (“ASAP”) in Jacksonville, Florida, to resolve allegations that ASAP violated a federal law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), by auctioning off or otherwise disposing of cars owned by protected servicemembers without first obtaining court orders.
Under the agreement, ASAP must pay up to $99,500 to compensate servicemembers whose cars 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 today by the 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. 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.”
“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 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 PT Cruiser without obtaining the court order required by the SCRA, while he was deployed aboard a naval submarine. The department’s complaint alleges 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. The settlement requires ASAP to adopt new procedures to investigate the military status of any registered owner prior to auctioning a vehicle. 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.
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. For more information about the department’s SCRA enforcement efforts, please visit www.servicemembers.gov.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their rights under SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at legalassistance.law.af.mil/.