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Mechanic May Have to Pay for Lien on Deployed Vet

(CN) - A mechanic's shop may have illegally sold the car of a U.S. Navy officer while he was deployed, the 4th Circuit ruled.

When Andre Gordon received orders to report to Norfolk, Va., in March 2007, he left his 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee in the parking lot of his apartment complex, located in nearby Newport News.

While Gordon was deployed in May, and his wife was at the couple's other home in Jacksonville, Fla., a representative from the Newport News apartment complex called a mechanic to repair a flat tire on Gordon's Jeep.

Neither Pete's Auto Service of Denbigh Inc. nor the apartment complex contacted Gordon's wife about the car.

After holding the vehicle for one month, Pete's sold the vehicle to itself, and then sold the car to a third party three days later.

Gordon filed a federal complaint in Newport News, claiming that Pete's had violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which prohibits the enforcement of liens against military personnel while they are deployed.

The District Court dismissed Gordon's case, finding that it lacked standing because the service members act did not provide a cause of action for damages.

While Gordon's case was pending appeal, however, Congress passed the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010, which provides that service members may obtain declaratory relief in respect to a violation and recover other relief, including monetary damages.

The Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals panel reversed the District Court's ruling on Feb. 14, deciding that the new act could be retroactively applied to Gordon's case.

Although the Veterans' Benefits Act does not address the issue of retroactive application, the three-judge panel found that Gordon's right to prevent the foreclosure of a lien was already enforceable. Virginia's conversion laws prohibit any "act of dominion over wrongfully exerted over property in denial of the owner's right, or inconsistent with it."

Without court authorization, Pete's would not have dominion over Gordon's Jeep to sell it.

Pete's had also argued that retroactive application would create new liability for the company, but the court disagreed since Gordon cannot receive two damages for the same cause under both acts.

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