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Soldiers & Sailors Civil Relief Act (SSCRA)
Chapter 1, Introduction
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Historical Background 

The very nature of military service often compromises the ability of service members to fulfill their financial obligations and to assert many of their legal rights.  Congress and the state legislatures have long recognized the need for protective legislation.  During the Civil War, the United States Congress enacted an absolute moratorium on civil actions brought against Federal soldiers and sailors, and various southern states enacted similar legislation. During World War I, Congress passed the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1918.  The 1918 statute did not create a moratorium on actions against service members, but it directed trial courts to take whatever action equity required when a service member's rights were involved in a controversy.

The present Federal legislation.  The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 is essentially a reenactment of the 1918 statute.  Experience during World War II and subsequent armed conflicts made certain changes in the statute necessary.  The first of these amendments became law in 1942.  In amending the Act, Congress was motivated, in part, by the desire to override court decisions that, in some instances, had led to restrictive interpretations of the Act. The latest amendment occurred in 1991 as a result of Desert Shield/Storm.  This guide incorporates those changes.

Organization of This Guide 

This guide generally follows the order of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940, as amended.  Four exceptions are the combination of Article I, General Provisions, and Article VI, Administrative Remedies, in Chapter 2; the combination of Article II, General Relief, and Article VII, Further Relief, in Chapter 3; the dividing of Article V, Taxes and Public Lands, into two chapters, Chapter 6, Taxes, and Chapter 7, Public Lands; and the inclusion of Section 1, Short Title (50 U.S.C. App. § 501), Section 100, Purpose and Scope of the Act (50 U.S.C. App. § 510), and Section 105, Notice of Benefits (50 U.S.C. App. § 515), in this chapter.

Throughout this guide the abbreviation "SSCRA," or the terms "Act,” or “the Act" refer to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940, as amended, unless otherwise stated.  The guide will refer to various sections of the legislation itself, rather than to codified sections of the U.S. Code.  Lawyers researching specific problems should also consult an annotated copy of the U.S. Code for current references to state and federal decisions.

Chapters 8 and 9 are SSCRA outlines of instruction currently used at TJAGSA.  Chapter 10 is an information paper specifically for reserve personnel coming onto active duty.  Also included in Chapter 10 is a set of teaching notes for reserve component attorneys to use in preparing to make presentations on the Act

Material Effect 

A central equitable concept, expressed in slightly varying statutory language, is embodied in many of the Act's relief provisions.  It is the concept of "material effect." In almost every case involving a service member, trial courts are required to form an opinion of the extent to which the service member's military service has materially affected the particular situation.  After this crucial determination has been made, either in favor of or adversely to the service member, the court may proceed with or stay the case at bar.

The concept of material effect comes into play in two broad, and sometimes interconnected, factual patterns.  The patterns might be referred to as (1) the ability to protect rights and (2) the ability to meet financial obligations.  Difficulties in both areas frequently arise as they represent the most common contexts in which courts apply the provisions of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act.

Factual patterns giving rise to disputes about the existence and extent of service members' liability or obligations raise the question of the service members' ability to protect their rights.  Trial courts must decide whether military service does, in fact, materially affect the service member's ability to protect his or her rights.  In this context, the service member is usually seeking a delay--a stay in the proceedings until personal appearance is possible.

Material effect problems also arise in purely financial situations.  Here the existence of a fixed obligation or a liquidated liability is admitted.  A service member’s request for relief under the SSCRA may put in issue the question of whether military service has materially affected the service person’s ability to discharge, in the previously agreed upon manner, the admitted financial obligations.  Trial courts concern themselves, therefore, with the service member's financial situation before and after entering military service.  After evaluating the effect of military service, the court may either grant a stay of proceedings or some other relief if the service member is equitably entitled to it, or deny relief entirely.

In some cases, the two common factual patterns are commingled.  Therefore, in considering individual cases falling within the relief provisions of the Act, judges, and attorneys representing service members, must know and understand fully the differences in the burden and the elements of proof required to establish the material effect of military service. 

Next page > Purpose of the Act > Page 1, 2

Above Information Courtesy of United States Army JAG Corps


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