A Michigan-based credit union who repossessed an Army private's car while he was away at military training is now facing a federal lawsuit from the Department of Justice.
DOJ officials filed the suit on July 26 against COPOCO Community Credit Union for allegedly repossessing Pfc. Christian Carriveau's car without first obtaining a court order.
The suit, filed in the U.S. Court for Eastern District of Michigan, alleges that by repossessing the car, COPOCO violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which offers civil protections for active duty military members, including prohibiting car repossession without obtaining a court order if the servicemember made a payment on the vehicle before joining the military.
Related: Read the complaint
"COPOCO Community Credit Union's alleged misconduct in repossessing vehicles without the required court order is both wrong and illegal," said Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer in a statement. "The Justice Department continues to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect and assist servicemembers, veterans and their families from unlawful conduct by creditors."
According to a complaint filed by the DOJ, Carriveau and his wife purchased the vehicle in 2014, obtaining financing from COPOCO and making their first loan payment that year.
Carriveau later moved his family to Washington State and joined the Army, beginning his active duty service in January 2015.
Carriveau's wife, Alyssa, contacted COPOCO that month to let them know that her husband had enlisted and that, due to Army pay schedules, their car payment would be late. The complaint said that the Carriveau's fell behind on payments that summer, but had begun to catch up by September.
On Oct. 5, COPOCO repossessed Carriveau's car and the car seat of his two-year-old daughter from his home in Lacey, Wash. while he was away for military training.
Alyssa Carriveau missed work as a result and called the DOJ, who had the car returned the same day. The complaint alleges that the repossession caused Alyssa Carriveau emotional distress.
After conducting an investigation, the DOJ determined that COPOCO had no written procedures in place to check the Department of Defense's Defense Manpower Data Center database to see whether its customers were active duty members "or any other process to determine customers' military status, prior to conducting repossessions without court orders."
As a result, the complaint alleges that Carriveau—in addition to any other servicemember who may have had their car repossessed by COPOCO—have suffered damages.
The suit seeks civil penalties of up to $60,000 for the first offense and $120,000 for each subsequent offense.
Linda Doan, president and CEO of COPOCO, said in an email that the company had not yet been formally served with the DOJ complaint.
" We would never intentionally repossess the vehicle of a member who is serving active duty in the military," she said.