When attempting to pursue a storage lien on the property or effects of a servicemember with active military status, it is very important that the holder of the lien follow the provisions outlined within the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act TITLE III to the letter. A failure to do so can result in penalties, heavy fines or even imprisonment. While often it is helpful to attempt to contact a servicemember’s superior officer before pursuing other legal avenues, there are ways to enforce a lien when necessary.
Check the status
The first and most important thing to do in the event that you must enforce a lien against a servicemember is to check military status. While the SCRA affords significant protections to those with active military status, these protections often do not extend far into civilian life. They are intended to take financial strains and other burdens off of servicemembers at a time when they are meant to be serving their country, not to give them immunity from financial burdens for life.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service can help you to check military status, even if you don’t have the social security number of the servicemember against whom you hold a lien. You will be furnished with an affidavit that informs you and any court to which you bring it of the person in question’s military status. Non-military status may mean that you are free to pursue the lien, active military status means that you will need to move on to the next step.
Going to court
The next step is to bring this affidavit to court. The SCRA Section 307(a)(1) states that no person holding a lien on the property or effects of a servicemember may attempt to foreclose or enforce that lien for the duration of that person’s active military status or for 90 days thereafter without first obtaining a court order. The language used to describe liens here is broad, including storage, repair and cleaning of property and effects.
It is important to check military status before going to court, as the case cannot otherwise proceed. Once the servicemember’s active military status is determined, the court must decide whether or not to pursue a stay of proceedings. If it determines that the servicemember’s ability to comply with the obligations for which you are pursuing him or her is not materially affected by his or her military status, you will be free to pursue the lien normally. If it is determined that the servicemember’s active military status does have a material effect, one of two things will occur.
- The court may decide to enact a stay of proceedings for a period that it deems fit, based on what “justice and equity require.” After this period, you will be free to pursue the lien if repayment is not received.
- The court may adjust the obligation in order to preserve the interests of all parties. This may result in a smaller sum being paid to you.
Penalties for non-compliance
Should you fail to comply with the provisions set out in the SCRA, the penalties can be severe. For knowingly taking action contrary to the act, a person can be charged with a misdemeanor offense, resulting in a fine as provisioned under title 18 of the United States Code, imprisoned for up to one year or both. This comes in addition to other remedies, meaning that you can still be forced to pay consequential or punitive damages.
These harsh penalties were put in place to protect servicemembers, and as a result of the political nature of this intention, are often strictly enforced. For this reason, individuals and organizations that come into contact with servicemembers must regularly check military status for their clients.