Navajo Business Owner Prevails When Lawsuit is Dismissed: “Like David Slaying Goliath”

Jerome Tsosie installng  Diné Keyboard at Tradeshow.

Jerome Tsosie installng Diné Keyboard at Tradeshow.

FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA — Navajo business-owner, Jerome Tsosie, received a nice present courtesy of a district court judge one week before Christmas when the judge signed on December 18, 2013 an order dismissing a lawsuit against his company.

A lawsuit was brought against Tsosie, one of his employees and his company by a competitor, CamNet, a non-Native company which does business on the Navajo Nation.

For Tsosie, the lawsuit dismissal was comparable to David slaying Goliath.

“It comes down to a large company not wanting a Native-owned business getting business they had,” said Tsosie, who claims CamNet set out to attempt to shut out his company on the Navajo Nation.

Tsosie co-owns Native Innovation, Inc. with Chris Muhlenfeld, a disadvantaged Native American-owned and veteran-owned small business.

Native Innovations provides education and cultural preservation services to customers on American Indian reservations. Native Innovations partners with Unity Technology Services LLC to provide enterprise computer network sales and services.

Based in Flagstaff, the company provides computer services to numerous schools on the Navajo Nation.

Native Innovation gained respect in Indian country by developing the free Diné Keyboard. In late 2012, Native Innovation, Inc. introduced the Diné Keyboard application for Apple products, such as iPhones and iPads. Last August a free Diné Keyboard application for Android device was released. The Diné Keyboard makes it possible for users to type in and removes many of the frustrations that users have with typing the Navajo language using the default iPhone and iPad keyboard.

Native Innovation and CamNet compete to install computer networking equipment and IT support to schools in Arizona and New Mexico.

CamNet brought the lawsuit after Native Innovation, Inc. hired one of CamNet’s salesmen away last May. The company alleged the employee signed a Non-Solicitation Agreement that prevented him to work for a competitor for 24 months after he left CamNet’s employment.

Prior to filing its lawsuit, CamNet sent a “cease-and-desist” letter to the employee and Native Innovation telling both the employee and Native Innovation: “Please immediately cease and desist from contracting, visiting or soliciting any CamNet customers.”

Soon thereafter, CamNet filed its lawsuit in Second District Court in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.

Both companies attended a hearing heard by District Court Judge Alan M. Malott.

Native Innovation’s attorney, Lorena Olmos, of the Modrall, Sperling, Roehl, Harris & Sisk law firm, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico argued:

“This is not a typical non-solicitation contract case. These companies, CamNet and Native Innovation, both provide services to schools. Native Innovation serves schools on the Navajo reservation. Specifically, they work with Bureau of Indian Education and Navajo Nation operated schools to implement smart boards, Promethean boards…This background is important because it informs our analysis of the subject matter jurisdiction questions.”

After hearing arguments of both parties, Judge Alan Malott dismissed the case without prejudice and deferred the case to Navajo Tribal Courts to hear the claims through the doctrine of comity, which is a legal mechanism that allows one court to recognize the authority of the other court. In this case, the county district court recognizes the authority of the Navajo tribal courts.

The judge gave CamNet ten business days to amend its lawsuit. Given the holidays that are not considered business days, CamNet has until today, January 6, 2014 to act.

“We’re really hoping that they will drop this insanity now, but we have no idea what they’re planning on doing. It’s all very frustrating,” Muhlenfeld commented to the Native News Online.

In the meantime, Tsosie and Muhlenfeld feel confident they can prevail in Navajo tribal court if the case gets that far.

UPDATED: Monday, January 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm – EST



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