The Justice Department announced today that it filed statements of interest in Espin et al. v. Citibank, N.A. and Padao v. American Express National Bank, two lawsuits currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, to address the right of the nation’s servicemembers to bring and participate in class action litigation under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) instead of being forced into privatized arbitration proceedings on their own.
The SCRA provides special legal protections to servicemembers to enable them to focus on their jobs defending the nation. For example, it allows servicemembers to reduce the interest rates on certain loans to 6% while on active duty. In Espin and Padao, the plaintiffs allege that Citibank and American Express, respectively, violated the SCRA by imposing interest rates in excess of 6% on qualified servicemembers.
The plaintiffs are seeking to bring class actions against the banks on behalf of themselves and other servicemembers who may have been affected. In response, Citibank and American Express are seeking to have the cases dismissed and to require every servicemember to bring their own individual claim in private arbitration. The department’s statements of interest urge the court to deny the defendants’ motions and to allow the plaintiffs’ SCRA class claims to proceed.
“The Justice Department is committed to robust enforcement of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, both through actions brought by the Attorney General and through servicemembers seeking to vindicate their own rights and the rights of others in federal court,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Our troops put their lives on the line to secure our freedom, and they should be able to effectively vindicate their rights,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Easley for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “Our troops fight for our freedom abroad, and we will zealously fight for their rights here at home. Limiting the rights of members of our military is unacceptable, especially in North Carolina, one of the most military-friendly states in the nation. We stand with our troops and insist that they be treated with the respect they deserve.”
The department’s statements of interest address specific language in the SCRA that permits plaintiffs in a civil action to be a representative party on behalf of members of a class or be a member of a class despite any previous agreement to the contrary. As explained in the statements of interest, this provision allows servicemembers to participate in class actions in federal court alleging SCRA violations even where, as in Espin and Padao, defendants seek to enforce an agreement requiring individual arbitration. The motions to compel arbitration in both cases are currently pending before the court.
Since 2011, the department has obtained over $481 million in monetary relief for over 123,000 servicemembers through its enforcement of the SCRA. For more information about the department’s enforcement efforts under the SCRA and other laws that protect the rights of servicemembers, please visit www.servicemembers.gov.
Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their rights under the SCRA have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program Office. Office locations may be found at http://legalassistance.law.af.mil.