The federal Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a longstanding federal law (first passed as the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act during World War I) that protects members of the armed forces from various legal obligations while engaged in active duty. The old statute was amended, renamed the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and signed into law on December 19, 2003. The current statute appears at 50 United States Code Appendix Sections 501-593. A complete copy of the statute can be found on the Washington State Courts website as well at http://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/ssra/. The SCRA is designed to protect active duty military members and active reservists and active National Guard members. The SCRA applies to states and political subdivisions.
The federal SCRA does not explicitly address a service member’s obligation to file with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. But the SCRA does allow a qualifying service member to seek relief from a court for “any obligation or liability” incurred or anticipated during a period of active duty. While this appears to apply primarily to tax and other similar financial obligations, the PDC has determined an analogy can be made to the obligation to file required paperwork with the PDC, particularly in enforcement cases as they may relate to or result in financial penalties, liabilities and consequences resulting from late or missed filings. Using the SCRA as a basis for considering proceedings involving late PDC filings by qualifying service members is within the SCRA’s applicability “to any judicial proceeding commenced in any court or agency in any jurisdiction subject to this Act.” 50 USC App. Sec. 512. Additionally, Congress has declared the SCRA is to be interpreted very liberally.
The SCRA also allows qualifying service members to obtain a stay from a court of any legal proceedings against them and to reopen a default judgment entered against them if the service member failed to respond to a lawsuit while on active duty.
In 2005, the State Legislature also enacted a Washington Service Members’ Civil Relief Act. Chapter 38.42 RCW. The state SCRA applies to “any service member who is ordered to report for military service and his or her dependents.” RCW 38.42.020. Except for criminal proceedings, the state SCRA applies to any judicial or administrative proceeding in which a service member or dependent is a defendant. The state SCRA is to be construed liberally “to do justice to service members and their dependents.” RCW 38.42.020.
Qualifying service members and dependents are entitled to a stay of proceedings if the criteria of RCW 38.42.060 are met for members and dependents who receive actual notice of the proceeding. Qualifying service members and dependents may seek the non-entry of or protection from default judgments if the criteria of RCW 38.42.050 are met. The period of a service member’s service is not computed in any statute of limitations. RCW 38.42.090. A service member may waive his or her rights under the chapter. RCW 38.42.040.
A copy of the state SCRA is available on the Washington State Code Reviser’s website on Access Washington at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=38.42
The federal SCRA applies to service members on “active duty.” Active duty is defined as full-time duty in the active military service of the United States, including full-time training duty, annual training duty, and attendance, while in the active military service, at a school designated as a service school by law or by the Secretary of the military department concerned. 10 USC Sec. 101(d)(1). Active status includes active members of reserve components including active Army or Air National Guard members. Active reservist means full time duty in the reserve components or in the National Guard. 10 USC Sec. 101(d)(3)-(5). Service of less than 30 days is not “active service.” 10 USC Sec. 101(d)(2). Protections under the SCRA for active reserve and Guard members begin on the date of receipt of the order for military service. 50 USC App. Sec. 516.
The federal SCRA applies to judicial and administrative proceedings. 50 USC App. Sec. 512. Under the federal SCRA if a qualified active service member is “materially affected” by reason of military service from complying with a court judgment or order, the court may on its own motion or shall on application of a service member stay the execution of any judgment or order entered against the service member before or during the service period and or within 90 days of termination of the service. 50 USC App. Sec. 524. The definition of “court” in the SCRA consistently includes administrative agencies. Qualifying service under the SCRA also tolls a statute of limitation and the service period “shall not be included in computing any period limited by law, regulation, or order for the bringing of any action or proceeding in a court, or in any board, bureau, commission, department or other agency of a state ” 50 USC App. Sec. 526.
If the service member’s ability to satisfy an obligation is “materially affected” by the military service, a court can grant various types of relief such as staying the obligation during the period of service and beyond. During the stay period, no fines or penalties connected with the obligation are to accrue. 50 USC App. Sec. 591. In all instances the burden is on the service member to show qualifying service and to show that the service materially affects the service member’s ability to appear or otherwise satisfy the particular obligation. There is no definition in the SCRA of the term “materially affected.” Thus, it will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
A service member who is ordered to report for military service or his or her dependents may qualify for relief under the state SCRA.
The time period for which relief may be sought by a service member or dependents is during the period beginning on the date on which the service member receives the order and ending 180 days after termination or release from military service.
A qualifying service member or dependent may seek a stay if he or she is in military service, or it is within 180 days after termination of or release from military service, and if the criteria of RCW 38.42.060 are met. Those criteria include:
A qualifying service member or dependent may seek the non-entry of or relief from a default judgment if the criteria of RCW 38.42.050 are met.
Federal SCRA and PDC Enforcement Cases
In a PDC enforcement case, if a member of the active military seeks relief from PDC filing deadlines occurring during active duty, or penalties imposed during active duty, the service member (or an attorney or other authorized representative) must establish the following:
State SCRA and PDC Enforcement Cases
If a service member or dependent is a defendant who seeks a stay in an enforcement case or relief from a default judgment from the PDC under the state SCRA, the service member or dependent (or an attorney or other authorized representative, or commanding officer) must submit a letter or other communication to the PDC and establish the following:
The Commission will provide a stay upon its own motion if information is provided to it that the stay criteria are satisfied. The Commission may provide other relief.
 As a general matter, the Commission cannot authorize extensions of time for all filers (such as for all qualifying service members) beyond statutory filing deadlines. State ex rel. Public Disclosure Commission v. Rains, 87 Wn.2d 626, 555 P.2d 1368 (1976). However, if the Commission receives a filer’s request for a modification or suspension of the reporting requirements in RCW 42.17A for that particular filer, the Commission will hold a hearing on the request. In the hearing, the Commission may determine if the filing requirement creates a manifestly unreasonable hardship in that particular case and if suspending or modifying the filing requirement for that requester does not frustrate the purposes of RCW 42.17A. Id; RCW 42.17A.120. In addition, in an enforcement proceeding, the Commission can consider waiving or suspending penalties that would otherwise be imposed as a result of late filings, or provide other conditions as appropriate.