AG Ferguson: Kitsap County towing company to reimburse ex-Navy sailor for auctioning off his car

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Ferguson seeks to ensure towing industry complies with law protecting active duty members

HARBOR ORCHARD – Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that a court order will force a Kitsap County towing company to pay a former Navy sailor for illegally auctioning his car. The ordinance also requires him to implement specific policies so as not to harm members of the service in the future.

The case is part of Ferguson’s ongoing military and veteran initiative to defend active duty members and Washington veterans. This involves involving and educating the military and ex-combatants on their rights and the resources available to them, vigorously enforcing legal protections under the authority of the Attorney General and promoting and facilitating access to services. civil law.

The case follows a letter Ferguson sent in September to every authorized tow truck operator in the state emphasizing their legal obligations to service members and providing resources to ensure their businesses comply. The letter was sent to over 400 tow truck operators.

“Unfortunately, some tow truck operators are not complying with the law,” the letter said. “My goal is not to file a complaint. My goal is to ensure that the rights of the military are protected; a goal that you certainly share.

“The law is clear – towing companies have an obligation to determine if a car is owned by a member of the military,” Ferguson said. “When our military men and women are deployed far from home and their families, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether their belongings are safe. There are specific laws that protect our military and I will enforce them. “

In an interruption insurance filed in Kitsap County Superior Court on December 16, Ferguson claimed Bethel Garage violated the Military Civilian Relief Act (SCRA), a federal law that provides protections for service members. assets, including protection against having their property auctioned off while it was in active service. This law, which Washington reflects in almost identical state law, requires companies to obtain a court order before auctioning vehicles owned by active duty members. Ferguson claimed the company had committed an unfair trading practice and also violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by failing to put in place policies and procedures to comply with the SCRA.

The case follows a court ruling earlier this year finding that a Tacoma-based towing company illegally sold service members’ vehicles at auction.

In 2014, Attorney General Ferguson worked with Gov. Jay Inslee and Representative Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, to pass bipartisan legislation giving the Attorney General’s office the power to enforce the SCRA.

Bethel Garage sold marine vehicle deployed in 2018 at auction

The attorney general’s office opened its case after receiving a complaint about the business from a Washington-based sailor. In December 2018, Bethel legally towed the sailor’s car. The sailor was deployed outside of Washington state at that time. Bethel did not verify if the car belonged to a military person. Therefore, Bethel Garage then illegally sold his car at an auction.

Despite operating in an area that is home to thousands of active-duty military personnel, Bethel had no policy to comply with the SCRA and did not verify a free and publicly accessible Department of Defense database. to see if service members owned any vehicles up for auction.

The court order will restore the money from the car auction to the sailor as well as an additional $ 2,000 to compensate him for a year he did not have a vehicle.

The owners of Bethel Garage made immediate changes to follow SCRA and CPA guidelines after receiving the first correspondence from the Attorney General’s office regarding the sailor’s car.

Assistant Attorney General John Nelson handled the case for the Attorney General’s office.

Previous legal work for the military on SCRA cases

In May 2020, a Pierce County judge ruled that a Tacoma-based towing company, Burns Towing, had illegally auctioned off vehicles belonging to active-duty military personnel.

After filing a complaint in 2018, the attorney general’s office investigated whether Burns Towing illegally auctioned the vehicles of other active duty members without first obtaining a court order. The attorney general’s office has uncovered evidence that Burns Towing sold up to 35 military vehicles while they were on active duty.

Burns Towing remained defiant throughout the case, despite his violations of the law.

In a separate case in July 2019, a property management company signed a legally binding agreement with the Thurston County Superior Court Attorney General’s Office for SCRA and CPA offenses.

In this case, a serviceman terminated his apartment lease with the company when he received military orders. The management company kept the soldier’s bonds and made him pay what amounted to an additional month’s rent to move out. The soldier then filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office.

The property management company paid the service member $ 1,010 and an additional $ 40,000 to the attorney general’s office to fund the future enforcement of the SCRA and CPA claims. It also agreed to mandate specific SCRA and CPA training for its managers and staff.

In April 2017, a Portland, Oregon-based property management company paid $ 16,000 following an attorney general’s office investigation into its practice of forcing active duty members to sign a ” military endorsement ”illegal to their leases. These contracts required service members to forgo rent concessions if they had to terminate their lease early due to a station change or deployment.

The company provided rent concessions, such as discounts for the first month’s rent or a gift card. When the member had to terminate the lease due to new military orders, CTL Management took over the full amount of the rental concession as part of the final lease accounting by reducing bond refunds or even asking the member to repay. total.

Military Civil Aid Act

Military service is often associated with hardships, including long periods away from family and friends, and frequent trips to new duty stations. As a result, Washington military personnel who go on active duty enjoy important legal protections.

One of the many legal protections afforded to military personnel under the SCRA is the requirement that a person or entity holding a lien on the property of an active duty military member – including a towing company holding a lien on storage on a motor vehicle – must obtain a court order before exercising the lien by selling the vehicle at auction.

The Department of Defense provides a database of active duty members that companies can use to verify military status. This research, available free of charge to a company that registers on the SCRA website, requires either a date of birth or a social security number to verify a person’s military status.

Attorney General’s Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance

The Attorney General’s Office for Military and Veteran Legal Assistance (OMVLA) was established by the Attorney General at the request of a law during the 2017 session to promote and facilitate access to civilian legal services for current and former members of the Washington military service. OMVLA is authorized to recruit and train volunteer lawyers, maintain a register of available services and volunteers, assess legal aid requests and refer these requests to registered volunteer lawyers and legal aid providers.

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The Washington Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. In addition, the Bureau directly serves the public by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights and environmental protection laws. The Bureau also pursues elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and deals with cases of sexually violent predators in 38 of 39 counties in Washington. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media contact:

Brionna Aho, director of communications, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

General contacts: Click here


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