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ORANGE, CA — An Orange County Auto Finance company repossessed a servicewoman's car while she was on active duty and sold the car at auction, according to the Justice Department. A lawsuit filed against California Auto Finance alleges a violation of the servicemembers Civil Relief Act, by repossessing protected servicemembers' motor vehicle without obtaining the necessary court order. Private Andrea Starks purchased a used Chevrolet from car dealership in Arizona in September of 2015. She enlisted in the army in April of the following year, reporting for active duty in May, but while she was gone, the car was repossessed from her grandmother's home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, according to court documents filed Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court. According to the lawsuit, Starks notified California Auto Finance that she would be entering the military, and despite the advance notice, California Auto Finance repossessed her car without a court order on May 9, 2016, her first day of active training, the government alleges. The complaint states that California Auto Finance had no process to determine customers' military status -- such as checking the U.S. Department of Defense's publicly available database -- prior to taking their cars. "The members of our armed forces should be able to devote their full attention to their duties without having to worry about whether their legal rights will be violated by lenders," said acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. "Repossessing vehicles without required court orders is both wrong and illegal. The Justice Department continues to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect and assist service members, veterans, and their families from unlawful conduct by lenders." In addition to monetary damages for affected military personnel, the complaint asks for civil monetary penalties and injunctive relief to prevent future repos that violate the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act.
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