The Justice Department today announced that Santander Consumer USA Inc, dba Chrysler Capital (Santander), has agreed to pay more than $ 134,000 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging the company refused to terminate the vehicle lease early. motor to service members who qualified for them under the Servicemembers Civil Aid Act (SCRA). The department previously settled an SCRA lawsuit against Santander in 2015 for repossessing 1,112 military vehicles without a court order.
“The civil rights of the military who sacrifice so much for our country must be respected,” said Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “We are committed to ensuring that those who serve in our country’s military receive the full range of benefits and protections to which they are entitled under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. “
“Since all of our veterans are in danger when they deploy or change positions, the last thing they should have to worry about is their car rental,” Acting US Attorney Prerak Shah said for the northern district of Texas. “The Civilian Relief for Military Members Act is designed to alleviate the financial burdens associated with active duty military service. We are committed to upholding this important law.
The SCRA allows military members to terminate motor vehicle leases early without penalty after entering military service or receiving eligible military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy to another location.
Today’s settlement, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas, resolves a lawsuit filed today by the Department of Justice. The lawsuit alleges that Santander illegally denied the early terminations of motor vehicle rentals to ten servicemen.
Under the proposed settlement, Santander must pay $ 94,282.62 in compensation to the ten injured servicemen and a civilian fine of $ 40,000 to the US Treasury. As part of the deal, the company also updated its SCRA procedures and training.
The department’s investigation, which began in 2019, stems from a complaint filed by U.S. Army Captain Eric McDowell. Captain McDowell entered into a three-year lease in October 2017 for a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but learned in May 2019 that it would be deployed to Afghanistan. In August 2019, he returned the vehicle to Santander and attempted to terminate the lease, but the company rejected his termination request. It was not until February 2020, after the United States launched its investigation and six months after Captain McDowell returned his vehicle to the dealership, that Santander finally approved the termination of the lease, waived the costs of early termination and refunded the rental amounts that had been paid. in advance. Captain McDowell faced significant stress while deployed to Afghanistan due to the six-month delay. The department’s investigation uncovered nine other servicemen whose SCRA rights, Santander said, were violated.
Service members and their dependents who believe their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office. Office locations can be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/.
The Department of Justice’s enforcement of the SCRA is conducted by the Housing and Civil Law Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division and US prosecutor’s offices nationwide. Since 2011, the department has obtained more than $ 476 million in monetary relief for more than 121,000 military personnel through the application of the SCRA. Additional information on the Department’s enforcement of SCRA and other laws protecting the military can be found at www.servicemembers.gov.