USDOJ Files Lawsuit Against Credit Union for Illegally Repossessing Servicemembers' Cars
The Justice Department alleges that COPOCO Community Credit Union violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
The U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) filed a lawsuit this week to recover damages from the COPOCO Community Credit Union. In the lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, the Justice Department accuses the credit union of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing protected servicemembers' motor vehicles without obtaining the necessary court orders.
The SCRA protects the rights of servicemembers on active duty by suspending or modifying certain civil obligations. The law prohibits repossessing a motor vehicle from a servicemember during military service without a court order if the individual made a deposit or installment payment on the loan before entering military service. Prior to issuing an order, the court may delay the repossession or require the lender to refund prior payments before repossessing. The court may also appoint an attorney to represent the servicemember, require the lender to post a bond with the court and issue any other orders it deems necessary to protect the servicemember.
The USDOJ's complaint alleges that COPOCO's vehicle repossession procedures did not include any process to determine customers' military status, such as checking the Department of Defense's database, prior to conducting vehicle repossessions without court orders.
The complaint also alleges that COPOCO illegally repossessed U.S. Army Private First Class Christian Carriveau's car, along with his two-year-old daughter's car seat, out of his driveway in Lacey, Washington, near Joint Base Lewis-McChord. His wife, Alyssa Carriveau, initially believed that the car had been stolen, but she subsequently learned that it had been repossessed. Private First Class Carriveau was away at military training at the time and Alyssa Carriveau was not able to get to work without the vehicle.
"No servicemember should be penalized for honorably serving our country," said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer. "COPOCO Community Credit Union's alleged misconduct in repossessing vehicles without the required court order is both wrong and illegal. The Justice Department continues to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect and assist servicemembers, veterans and their families from unlawful conduct by creditors."
"The Justice Department works tirelessly to protect the rights of those who answer our nation's call to duty to defend our freedom," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "We will continue to vigorously pursue lenders who fail to take the simple steps necessary to determine, before repossessing a car, whether it belongs to a servicemember."
In addition to monetary damages for affected servicemembers, the SCRA provides for civil monetary penalties of up to $60,000 for the first offense and $120,000 for each subsequent offense. The USDOJ says that will also seek changes in how COPOCO conducts future car repossessions.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office. Additional information about the Justice Department's enforcement of the SCRA and other laws protecting servicemembers is available at ServiceMembers.gov.