A suit involving vehicle repossessions and members of the military came to a close Monday.
The Justice Department announced that CitiFinancial Credit Co., as successor to CitiFinancial Auto Corp., has agreed to pay $907,000 to resolve allegations that it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing 164 vehicle owned by SCRA-protected servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders.
During the investigation, DOJ officials said they learned that CitiFinancial conducted repossessions without court orders even when CitiFinancial had evidence in its own records suggesting that a borrower could be a protected servicemember. In several cases, loan servicing notes indicated that CitiFinancial was informed that the borrower was in military service or had received orders to report for military service.
The Justice Department said that CitiFinancial, nevertheless, continued repossession efforts and eventually succeeded in repossessing the servicemembers’ vehicles.
This settlement resolves a suit filed by the department in the Northern District of Texas and covers vehicle repossessions that occurred between 2007 and 2010. CitiFinancial Auto Corp. originated and serviced these vehicle installment contracts until 2010, when operations and assets were sold to Santander Consumer USA.
In February 2015, the Justice Department entered a settlement with Santander that provides servicemembers with more than $10.5 million in compensation for repossessions that violated the SCRA. As part of the investigation of Santander’s repossession practices, officials learned that CitiFinancial sold Santander the right to collect debts owed by servicemembers after their vehicles had been repossessed by CitiFinancial in violation of the SCRA.
The SCRA protects servicemembers against certain civil proceedings, including vehicle repossessions, affecting their legal rights during active military service. The SCRA requires a court to review and approve any repossession if the servicemember took out the loan and made a payment before entering military service.
The court may then delay the repossession or require the finance company to refund prior payments before repossessing. The court may also appoint an attorney to represent the servicemember, require the finance company to post a bond with the court and issue any other orders it deems necessary to protect the servicemember.
By failing to obtain court orders before repossessing vehicles owned by protected servicemembers, the DOJ asserted that CitiFinancial prevented servicemembers from obtaining a court review of whether these repossessions should be delayed or adjusted to account for their military service.
Officials went on to mention this agreement further compensates servicemembers for their losses by requiring CitiFinancial to pay $5,000 to each impacted servicemember, in addition to the Santander settlement.
CitiFinancial must also pay $10,000 to one affected servicemember who did not receive partial compensation through the Santander settlement.
In addition, CitiFinancial will pay $500 per account to compensate borrowers for any lost equity, with interest, and must take steps to repair the credit of all affected servicemembers. An independent settlement administrator will contact servicemembers in the coming months to finalize individual settlements at no cost to the servicemembers.
“Members of our armed forces make extraordinary sacrifices in order to protect and defend our nation, and they should be able to serve actively without fear that their legal rights will be violated,” said Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. “This settlement provides financial relief and credit repair assistance to the servicemembers whose vehicles were repossessed by CitiFinancial.
“The enforcement of federal laws protecting current members of the Armed Services, veterans, and their families continues to be an important priority for this Department of Justice,” Brand continued.
“The men and women who serve in the armed forces deserve to have us protect their backs while they selflessly protect us,” U.S. Attorney John Parker added. “This conduct clearly fell short of that and I'm grateful we were able to repair some of that harm.”