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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA): A Private Cause of Action

R. Chuck Mason
Legislative Attorney

Congress has long recognized the need to protect the legal interests of servicemembers whose service to the nation may compromise their ability to meet specified commercial and financial obligations. The purpose of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is to provide for, strengthen, and expedite the national defense by protecting servicemembers, enabling them to “devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation.” The SCRA protects servicemembers by temporarily suspending certain judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect their legal rights during military service.

Prior to enactment of P.L. 111-275, the SCRA did not explicitly provide for a private cause of action. A private cause of action allows an individual, in a personal capacity, to sue in order to enforce a right or to correct a wrong. In the absence of an explicit right of a private cause of action, the right to enforce afforded rights presumably rests with the government. Most courts that have considered the issue found that a private cause of action exists under the SCRA. An opinion from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Hurley v. Deutsche Bank Trust Company, disagreed with decisions from U.S. district courts in Illinois, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas, and found that a private cause of action did not exist under the act. However, upon reconsideration the court vacated its earlier opinion and held that a private cause of action did exist under various sections of the SCRA.

On October 13, 2010, P.L. 111-275, the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, was enacted. In addition to clarifying protections under the SCRA, including those related to residential and motor vehicle leases, the act explicitly creates a Title VIII addressing civil liability. Under Title VIII of the SCRA, the U.S. Attorney General is authorized to commence a civil action against any person who engages in a pattern or practice of violating the act or engages in a violation of the act that raises an issue of significant public importance. Servicemembers and their dependents have the right to join a case commenced by the U.S. Attorney General, but they may also commence their own civil action (i.e., a private cause of action) to enforce protections afforded them under the SCRA. Finally, Title VIII provides that neither the U.S. Attorney General’s authority or the servicemember’s right of a private cause of action preclude or limit any other remedies available under the law, including consequential or punitive damages for violations of the SCRA.

Date of Report: October 29, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: R41470
Price: $29.95

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