California company sued over sale of servicemembers’ stored belongings

March 17, 2015 6
California company sued over sale of servicemembers’ stored belongings

A federal lawsuit offers a cautionary tale about auctioning off stored property belonging to members of the U.S. military.

On March 16, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit seeking to recover damages from a company that allegedly sold the stored property of 11 deployed servicemembers without obtaining the required court orders.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Daniel E. Homan and his San Marcos, CA-based company, Horoy Inc. Horoy does business as Across Town Movers, which calls itself one of the largest moving companies in the San Diego area.

The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.
— Vanita Gupta, acting assistant U.S. attorney general

The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects the rights of U.S. servicemembers who are on active duty. For instance, the law says a storage lien can’t be enforced against a servicemember during that person’s military service or for 90 days after the end of that service.

In its lawsuit, the Department of Justice says the defendants “had a practice of not checking customers’ military status before auctioning off their goods.”

The Department of Justice alleges that since 2011, Across Town Movers has sold the personal property of 11 servicemembers without obtaining the proper court orders. After auctioning off one servicemember’s property, including household items and vintage car parts, Across Town Movers continued to collect storage rent from the federal government, the Justice Department alleges.

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy says active-duty service members shouldn't have to worry about their property.

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy is going to bat for active-duty servicemembers.

Protecting their rights

“Servicemembers, especially when deployed overseas, should be able to focus on protecting our country and shouldn’t have to worry about losing their personal property,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a news release.

Vanita Gupta, acting assistant U.S. attorney general, recommended that storage companies check the U.S. Defense Department’s military database before auction off the belongings of a tenant who is or might be serving in the military.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of the men and women who serve in our armed forces,” Gupta said, “and we will continue to devote time and resources to make sure that they are given the legal protections they deserve.”

In addition to pursuing money for the auctioned goods, federal prosecutors could seek financial penalties against Across Town Movers of $55,000 for the first offense and $110,000 for each additional offense.

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  • http://A-1Storage.com Mike Mitchum

    What is the link for “recommended that storage companies check the U.S. Defense Department’s military database and other resources?”

  • bozotheclown

    We take great pains to avoid auctioning ANY military members goods. That said, the military has made it difficult to validate the status of its members. So I too am intrigued by this so called database.

  • EditorJohnEgan

    A link to the Defense Department database has been added.

  • Lucky13X

    This is a little appalling to read about.

  • Matthew Nada

    The pendulum swings both ways here. As a former District Manager and Operations Manager, with 12 years industry experience, I can tell you that the US Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is not arbitrary. In many cases, the burden falls on the service member to notify the storage operator. Yes, if the storage operator is not asking up front, they are asking for trouble but the service member should have the wherewithal to know they should inform the storage operator of their military status. Furthermore, it is a best practice to insist that your military member tenants either sign up for Autopay or know how to pay online. Being in the military, even deployed, is no excuse to not pay your bills. When I was in the army, we were taught that during basic, a responsible solider does not use military service or deployment as an excuse not to pay their bills on time. Sorry, if it seems I am playing Devil’s Advocate here but there are two sides to every story and being a self-storage professional for 12 years you know where my loyalties lie.

    One last thing… All storage operators, once they know they’re renting to a military personnel, should make sure they are getting at least 2 (minimum) alternate contact info. Okay… done with my 2 Shiny Lincolns!!

  • hydranix

    website for storage managers to avoid this: scra.dmdc.osd.mil