Williams et al v. Butler
ORDER granting in part 16 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Signed by Senior Judge W. Earl Britt on 6/26/2014. (Marsh, K)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
DAX WILLIAMS AND ANGELA
BERTIE BUTLER D/B/A SOUTHERN
This matter is before the court on plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment. (DE
# 16.) Defendant filed a response in opposition to the motion, (DE # 20), to which plaintiffs
filed a reply, (DE # 21). This matter is ripe for disposition.
On 10 April 2013, plaintiff Dax Williams, who is a member of the United States Army,
and his wife, plaintiff Angela Williams, initiated this action asserting claims under the
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (“SCRA”), 50 U.S.C. app. § 501 et seq., and North Carolina
law. (Compl., DE # 1.) Their claims arise out of the termination of their lease of a storage unit
owned and operated by defendant and defendant’s disposal of property plaintiffs had stored in
the unit. (Id. ¶ 2.)
Plaintiffs move for summary judgment only as to defendant’s liability for violation of the
SCRA. (Mot., DE # 16, at 1.)
The SCRA “provides [to members of the armed services] a
variety of protections against such diverse ills as cancellation of
life insurance contracts . . . and taxation in multiple jurisdictions.”
Gordon v. Pete's Auto Serv. of Denbigh, 637 F.3d 454, 458 (4th
Cir. Va. 2011). Additionally, the Act prevents such civil actions as
foreclosures on servicemembers' property while they are serving in
the military. See 50 U.S.C. App. § 532(3).
Morse v. Va. Dep’t of Corr., Civil Action No. 3:13cv361, 2014 WL 1308725, at *5 (E.D. Va.
Mar. 31, 2014) (alteration and omission in original). The SCRA includes an express private
right of action for damages. 50 U.S.C. app. § 597a(a).
Plaintiffs claim that because defendant did not obtain a court order prior to disposing of
plaintiffs’ property to enforce a lien, defendant violated § 537(a)(1) of the SCRA. (Compl., DE
# 1, ¶ 32.) Section 537 provides in relevant part:
(1) Limitation on foreclosure or enforcement
A person holding a lien on the property or effects of a
servicemember may not, during any period of military service of
the servicemember and for 90 days thereafter, foreclose or enforce
any lien on such property or effects without a court order granted
before foreclosure or enforcement.
(2) Lien defined
For the purposes of paragraph (1), the term “lien” includes a lien
for storage, repair, or cleaning of the property or effects of a
servicemember or a lien on such property or effects for any other
50 U.S.C. app. § 537. Defendant concedes his liability to plaintiff Dax Williams under the
SCRA. (Resp., DE # 20, at 4.) However, he contests liability to plaintiff Angela Williams on
the ground that she is not protected by the Act. (Id.) The protections of § 537 of the SCRA
extend to a servicemember’s “dependent”1 as follows.
Upon application to a court, a dependent of a servicemember is
entitled to the protections of this title if the dependent's ability to
comply with a lease, contract, bailment, or other obligation is
materially affected by reason of the servicemember's military
50 U.S.C. app. § 538. Assuming without deciding that by filing this action, plaintiff Angela
A “dependent” includes the servicemember’s spouse. 50 U.S.C. app. § 511(4)(A).
Williams has satisfied the obligation under § 538 to make “application to a court,” the court
agrees with defendant that she has not shown that her ability to comply with the storage unit
lease was materially affected by reason of her husband’s military service. Although there is
evidence that plaintiffs were delinquent in the payment of the monthly rental fee in accordance
with the lease, (see A. Williams Decl., DE # 16-3, ¶¶ 8, 10), plaintiffs have submitted no
evidence that the failure to do so was due to plaintiff Dax Williams’ military service. Cf. Tucson
Telco Fed. Credit Union v. Bowser, 451 P.2d 322, 324 (Az. Ct. App. 1969) (recognizing that
“[i]t is uncontroverted that [the wife’s] ability to pay was impaired by [her husband’s] induction”
and holding that the wife, as a dependent, is entitled to protection under the former version of the
SCRA). Accordingly, plaintiff Angela Williams cannot show that she is entitled to the
protections afforded by § 537.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment is
ALLOWED IN PART. It is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that
defendant has violated 50 U.S.C. app. § 537(a)(1) as to plaintiff Dax Williams,
defendant has no liability to plaintiff Angela Williams under 50 U.S.C. app. §
The issue of plaintiff Dax Williams’ damages for defendant’s violation of 50 U.S.C. app. §
537(a)(1) and the issue of liability and damages on plaintiffs’ state law claims remain for trial.
This 26 June 2014.
W. Earl Britt
Senior U.S. District Judge
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