Judge Rules Navajo Case Against Urban Outfitters Can Continue

Dec 29, 2015

In this Oct. 14, 2011 photo, purchased items from Urban Outfitters' Navajo line are shown in Tempe, Ariz. The Navajo Nation is suing Urban Outfitters months after the tribe sent a cease and desist letter to the clothing retailer demanding it pull the "Navajo" name from its products.
Credit AP Photo/Matt York

A federal court judge has reaffirmed that the Navajo Nation can continue its lawsuit against Urban Outfitters Inc. under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

The tribe filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Mexico against the retail company in February 2012 for alleged trademark violations, unfair competition, and violation of the arts and crafts act.

The complaint was filed after Urban Outfitters sold items such as clothing, jewelry and accessories labeled as “Navajo” on its website and in stores.

Urban Outfitters removed the products in October 2011 after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the tribe.

On Dec. 21, U.S. District Judge Bruce D. Black ruled the tribe has Article III — which requires an “injury in fact” — standing to continue its claims under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, according to court documents.

Urban Outfitters argued the tribe lacks standing to the claims because it cannot show injury in fact, court documents state.

Black issued his opinion and order in response to a set of summary judgments both the Navajo Nation and Urban Outfitters filed in late 2014.

He also denied both summary judgments in his 10-page opinion and order.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act was enacted by Congress in 1935 to protect the cultural property of Native Americans. The original statute created the Indian Arts and Crafts Board within the U.S. Department of the Interior and mandated that the board promote and protect Indian arts and crafts, and create trademarks to protect such items.

Under a 1990 amendment, tribes received the right to bring lawsuits against any person or entity who sells a product “in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization.”

In the Navajo Nation complaint from 2012, it states the tribe registered “Navajo” as a trademark in connection with the sale of goods and services as early as 1943.

At the time of the complaint was filed, the tribe had registered 86 trademarks that include “Navajo” for a variety of goods and services.