On September 18, the DOJ announced a settlement with a large financial institution resolving allegations that the financial institution had illegally repossessed 164 active-duty servicemembers’ vehicles without first obtaining necessary court orders in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The DOJ filed its complaint against the financial institution in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas the same day the settlement agreement was reached. According to the complaint, the financial institution repossessed the vehicles between 2007 and 2010, when it completed the sale of its automobile lending and servicing arm to a different company. As part of a separate enforcement action against the company that acquired the accounts, the DOJ discovered that the financial institution allegedly violated the SCRA by arranging “for the physical repossession of the automobile and later [selling] the account to [the new company], which attempted to collect fees relating to the unlawful repossession.” Further, the complaint alleges that the financial institution conducted repossessions without SCRA-required court orders, even though the company possessed information “in its own records suggesting that a borrower could be a SCRA-protected servicemember,” or knew that “the borrower was in military service or had received orders to report for military service” and “nevertheless continued repossession efforts and eventually succeeded in repossessing the [servicemembers’] vehicles.”
While the financial institution has denied the allegations, it agreed to compensate affected servicemembers $907,000, 163 of whom are to receive $5,000 each, in addition to the $5,000 previously received as partial compensation from a separate settlement the DOJ reached with the company that acquired the accounts. The remaining impacted servicemember, who did not receive partial compensation, will receive $10,000 from the escrow account. All 164 servicemembers will also receive $500 for “lost equity” and accrued interest. In addition, the financial institution must provide credit repair relief to each affected servicemember and any co-borrowers, and are required to cooperate with an “Independent Settlement Administrator” who will monitor compliance. Further, should the financial institution resume originating or servicing automobile loans, it is required to provide notice to the DOJ every six months of any SCRA or military-related complaint.