As we reported in September of last year, the Justice Department started a lawsuit against a Massachusetts moving and storage company in the U.S. District Court in Boston claiming a violation of a federal law – the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The DOJ civil complaint alleged the moving company failed to obtain a court order before auctioning off the entire contents of an Air Force Technical Sergeant’s storage lot while he was deployed in Qatar. The case is a reminder to movers, warehouses and self-storage operators of the need to exercise caution before proceeding with an auction sale of a consumer’s personal possessions to satisfy an arrearage covered by a statutory lien against the goods.
After an unsuccessful attempt to settle the case through mediation, the government, defendant and its individual managers agreed to a “consent order” which, if approved by the court and complied with to the government’s satisfaction, will result in the case being dismissed with prejudice after December 31, 2023. The consent order, requires the Mover to incorporate specific changes to storage agreements, storage practices, lien enforcement and employee training. In addition, for the next two years, prior to conducting steps to enforce its lien on new and existing customers’ goods, the defendant must provide to the government all documents associated with the customer, including storage agreement, evidence of nonpayment, and of attempts to gain payment. The government then has 15 business days from receipt of the information to ascertain whether the customer is in military service or has left a period of military service within the past 90 days. If the government’s background check comes back that the defendant’s storage customer is protected by the SCRA, the defendant can’t go forward with a lien sale as to that account unless it first obtains a SCRA court order allowing it to proceed with the lien sale.
As to the loss claim asserted by the sergeant, the consent order requires that the Mover pay him $60,000 in exchange for a release. In addition, the Mover agreed to a civil penalty of $5,000 to “vindicate the public interest.” Contrast the results of this case with a 2015 case against a San Diego mover and its owner. The San Diego case resulted in a consent order requiring the mover to pay $170,000 to settle claims against 10 servicemembers, establishment of practices and procedures to comply with SCRA and court supervision for 3 years.
The SCRA generally protects the rights of servicemembers while on active duty by suspending or modifying certain civil obligations so that they can devote themselves fully to the Nation’s defense. It includes imposing additional procedural and substantive protections for the servicemember and in some cases their dependents when it comes to lien enforcement for storage of the property or effects of a servicemember. Under the SCRA, a person holding a lien on property or effects of a servicemember (i.e., a carrier, warehouse, or self-storage operator) may not, during any period of military service of the servicemember and for 90 days thereafter, enforce a lien on such property or effects without a court order granted before lien enforcement. In other words, when it applies, SCRA requirements are in addition to other applicable lien enforcement procedures, such as the state uniform commercial code, self-service storage facility operator’s lien, and other statutes conferring liens on personal property.
Significantly, for purposes of compliance with the SCRA, there is no affirmative obligation that the servicemember inform the lien holder of his or her military service. In effect, in the absence of having proper procedures in place to identify such customers, the SCRA becomes a strict liability statute if violated by failing to obtain an appropriate order from the court.
Violation of the SCRA includes possible criminal and civil liability. In addition to the US Attorney seeking relief for servicemembers and other civil penalties, servicemembers may bring a private right of action on their own behalf, or on behalf of a class of claimants. In addition to monetary damages, the claimant may seek equitable, declaratory and “all other appropriate relief.” Attorney’s fees may be awarded to a claimant prevailing on his or her SCRA claim. The statute does not preclude or limit any remedy otherwise available under law, including consequential and punitive damages. Accordingly, remedies available in the commonwealth under the consumer protection law, G. L. 93A providing for multiple damages and attorney’s fees, could be claimed.
The case highlights the importance of having effective policies and procedures in place and understood by management and pertinent staff so that when a moving and storage company accepts a servicemember’s personal possessions, there is clear documentation (rather than conflicting circumstantial evidence) which documentation informs the mover/warehouse or operator on how to conduct lien enforcement proceedings in compliance with the SCRA and other applicable laws; the Massachusetts eviction storage statute being one example.
Dated: Sudbury, MA
October 6, 2021
Andresen & Borovick, LLP
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Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776
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 United States of America v. PRTaylor Enterprises LLC, 20-11551 (D. Mass., Aug. 18, 2020).
 United States of America v. Horoy, Inc. d/b/a Across Town Movers, 15-00592 (S.D. Ca., May 15, 2020) Consent Order.