A California moving and storage company is forking over nearly $170,000 after it allegedly broke the law by selling the stored belongings of active-duty members of the U.S. Navy without permission.
Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, said the U.S. government hopes the agreement “will send a clear message” to storage companies about adhering to federal law when it comes to auctioning off the stored possessions of service members.
To verify whether a storage tenant is an active-duty member of the military, visit www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/scra.
San Marcos, CA-based Across Town Movers is paying the money to resolve allegations made in a lawsuit filed in March by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, CA. The suit claims Across Town Movers routinely sold active-duty service members’ stored possessions without securing the required court orders.
Under Section 307 of the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a storage lien can’t be enforced against a service member during military service or within a 90-day period after that service ends unless the storage company obtains a court order.
Vintage car parts sold
In all, 11 service members will benefit from the nearly $170,000 settlement to compensate for their auctioned-off possessions, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas Ward, a 30-year Navy veteran, will receive the bulk of the money—$150,000.
Ward placed valuable car parts and many household items in storage when he was deployed overseas. Just before completing his final tour of duty, Ward found out that Across Town Movers had auctioned all of his stored belongings, including vintage car parts, without providing any notice or obtaining a court order. Across Town Movers allegedly kept collecting storage rental fees from the federal government even after Ward’s possessions were sold.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said the $150,000 payment to Ward will allow him to buy back his lost belongings.
“Federal law protects our military service members and their dependents from businesses taking certain adverse actions against them. These protections permit service members to devote their full attention to defending the United States,” Duffy said.
As part of the settlement, Across Town Movers must change its business practices, including development of new policies and procedures regarding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.