On July 26, the DOJ filed a complaint against a Michigan-based credit union for alleged violations of the SCRA’s prohibition against motor vehicle repossession from an active-duty servicemember without a court order. Under the SCRA, a court must “review and approve a lender’s repossession of any motor vehicle owned by a servicemember if the servicemember took out the loan and made a deposit or an installment payment before entering military service.” According to the complaint, the credit union failed to, among other things, (i) establish vehicle repossession procedures that included checking the Department of Defense’s database to determine customers’ military status; (ii) implement written policies concerning compliance with the SCRA; and (iii) obtain the necessary court order to initiate and complete repossession of a motor vehicle owned by a member of the U.S. Army. The DOJ further alleges that the credit union’s conduct was “intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of servicemembers.” The complaint seeks monetary consumer relief, civil penalties, and changes to the credit union’s repossession procedures.
On August 10, the DOJ announced that a private military housing provider agreed to pay $200,000 to settle allegations that it violated the SCRA by obtaining default judgments against active-duty servicemembers and their families and subsequently evicting them. According to the DOJ, the company violated the SCRA when it requested default judgments against active-duty servicemembers without filing the appropriate affidavits “to alert the court of the tenants’ military status.” Under the terms of the proposed consent order, the company must (i) pay each servicemember affected by its actions $35,000 and vacate the judgment; (ii) forgive deficiency balances and request that the credit bureau remove evictions from effected credit reports; and (iii) pay a civil penalty of $60,000 to the United States. The consent order is pending approval by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. The DOJ noted that this is the first case it has filed alleging illicit eviction of servicemembers from their homes.
California AG Harris filed a parallel suit against the defendants, arguing that the evictions violated the California Military and Veterans Code, the SCRA, state debt collection laws, and state privacy laws.
On June 10, the OCC released Bulletin 2016-20 to inform national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks (OCC-supervised institutions) of recent temporary amendments to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). As previously covered in InfoBytes and as outlined in the OCC’s Bulletin, the Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act 2015 extends through December 31, 2017 the SCRA provision that protects servicemembers against sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property based on a breach of a secured obligation without a court order or waiver for one year following completion of their service. The OCC’s Bulletin notes that HUD updated its “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Notice Disclosure” (Form 92070) to reflect the temporary extensions.
Third Circuit Upholds District Court’s Ruling in its First Case Interpreting the Scope of SCRA Protections
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that protections pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) do not apply to a business owned by a servicemember. Davis v. City of Philadelphia, No. 15-2937 (3d Cir. May 4, 2016). In 2004, the servicemember plaintiff transferred his and his wife’s property to a Pennsylvania company that he and his wife owned. The plaintiff, having served in the military between 2008 and 2011, claimed that the property’s tax debt should have been reduced under the SCRA. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss, holding that because the plaintiff was not personally liable for his company’s debt, the City had not denied him relief under the SCRA.
The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the plain language of the SCRA’s property tax interest rate cap and its protection against penalties extend only to “property…owned individually by a servicemember or jointly by a servicemember and a dependent or dependents.” 50 U.S.C. § 3991(e) (emphasis added). The SCRA defines “servicemember” as “a member of the uniformed services;” therefore, the court reasoned that property owned by a servicemember is a separate legal entity from the actual servicemember and is ineligible for the SCRA’s protections. The court held that the servicemember failed to prove that an interest in excess of six percent was assessed against him while on active duty or that he actually owned the property. Rather, because the company was the actual owner of the property and was solely liable for tax debt, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.
On March 21, the U.S. House of Representatives passed S.B. 2393, which extends through 2017 the provision of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act’s (SCRA) that protects servicemembers against foreclosure without a court order or waiver for one year following completion of their service. On January 1, 2016, the foreclosure protection provision reverted back to the period of active duty military service plus 90 days, rather than the period of active duty military service plus one year. Upon the President’s signature, the SCRA’s protection against foreclosure without a court order or waiver will return to the period of active duty military service plus one year through December 31, 2017.