Ft. Benning, Ga. (11/11/11) – Exemplifying his Infantry motto, Follow Me, United States Army Infantryman and Purple Heart recipient, SSG Jason Cox, hopes to stop predatory title loans from being made to members of the military and their dependents. Flanked by Georgia’s former Governor, Staff Sergeant Cox filed a nationwide class action lawsuit against the Atlanta-based title pawn lenders Community Loans of America, Inc., its wholly owned subsidiary, Alabama Title Loans, Inc., and 900 related corporate entities operating in 22 states.
The federal court suit, filed on Veteran’s Day in Columbus, is based on the special lending protections given to active duty service members and their dependents under the Military Lending Act of 2007, a federal law that prohibits creditors from charging more than 36% APR on title and payday loans and requiring service members to give up the title to their vehicle as security of the loan. Lawmakers passed the MLA after the Pentagon reported in 2006 that “Predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force.”
As title loans go, Cox’s story is not unique. To help meet family financial obligations, Cox initially borrowed $3,000 against his 2002 Dodge Durango that he owned free and clear. Cox was charged over 100% APR for each 30 day loan period. After rolling the loan over multiple times, and paying hundreds of dollars each time, Cox could no longer afford to keep making the monthly payments and the Durango was repossessed from his on base housing at Ft. Benning, while he was at work and on duty. SSG Cox is asking a federal judge for permission to represent all active duty service members and their dependents in 22 states who had similar loans, and to declare the loans and the unlawful.
This case challenges the practice of making illegal “vehicle title loans” to active duty service members and their dependents in violation of the Military Lending Act. Unlike other laws where the victims of predatory lending are not allowed to go to court, the MLA expressly bans lenders from requiring service members to arbitrate without a court’s involvement. The suit is asking a federal judge to force vehicle title lenders to comply with the requirements of the MLA, stop repossessing service member’s vehicles on the loans that don’t comply, and return the money that was wrongfully taken.
The suit, jointly filed by Roy Barnes, Georgia’s former Governor, and John R. Bevis (Barnes Law Group, LLC) and attorneys Scott C. Crowley and Kyle S. Fischer (Day Crowley, LLC), is the first of its kind. Asked why he filed suit, Barnes said “It’s simple, really. Every day we ask the military to fight for our freedoms. Now it’s time for us to step up to the plate and fight for theirs. Predatory lending against our service members and their families violates all notions of decency and ethics. This is not only wrong – it is tragic. And it must end.”