On September 27, the DOJ announced a settlement with a California-based indirect auto financing company and its subsidiary responsible for extending auto title loans (defendants) resolving allegations that the defendants violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by illegally repossessing at least 70 SCRA-protected servicemembers’ vehicles. The DOJ filed its complaint against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California the same day the settlement agreement was reached. This is the second DOJ settlement reached this month over alleged SCRA violations concerning auto repossessions. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) According to the complaint, the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs alerted the DOJ in 2016 to the alleged unlawful vehicle repossessions. The DOJ’s investigation concluded that the defendants repossessed the vehicles between 2011 and 2016, without confirming whether the servicemembers were SCRA-protected or obtaining court orders. The defendants’ practice of violating the SCRA, the DOJ contends, was “intentional, willful, and taken in disregard for the rights of servicemembers.”
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the defendants must comply with the following: (i) obtain a court order or “valid SCRA waiver” in compliance with the outlined terms of the agreement before repossessing servicemember vehicles; (ii) develop a set of SCRA policies and procedures that outline repossession compliance measures and another set of policies and procedures to provide SCRA relief; (iii) appoint SCRA-specialized employees; and (iv) provide SCRA compliance training. The defendants must also compensate affected servicemembers $700,000, in addition to “lost equity,” accrued interest, credit repair relief, and an auto loan interest rate cap for eligible servicemembers. Further, the defendants must pay a civil penalty of $60,788 to the Treasury, and provide a list of repossessions between October 2016 and the effective date of the settlement to be reviewed by the DOJ for additional SCRA-violations.