Navajo Nation, Wells Fargo reach settlement in customer accounts case
FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation has reached a settlement with Wells Fargo Bank in its federal appeal against the financial institution for unlawful practices against tribal members.
The $6.5 million settlement was announced on Aug. 22 in a press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.
The tribe sued Wells Fargo in December 2017 for allegedly using deceptive banking practices to prey upon and pressure tribal members into opening additional banking accounts at its locations on and near the reservation.
"Wells Fargo's predatory actions defrauded and harmed the nation," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in the release.
Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Aug. 22.
After a federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit, the tribe appealed to a higher court in Denver in fall 2018. The action coincided with a separate lawsuit in Window Rock District Court.
Jared Touchin, spokesman for the president's office, said the $6.5 million settlement applies to the appeal case and to the complaint in tribal court.
The lawsuit in 2017 was made more than a year after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a $100 million fine against Wells Fargo for the illegal practice of secretly opening unauthorized accounts.
The Navajo Nation filed its complaint in December 2017 in U.S. District Court in New Mexico. It was dismissed in September 2018.
In the court decision, the judge determined the tribe's claims against Wells Fargo were barred because the financial institution had settled similar claims with the federal protection bureau in 2016.
The judge did not prohibit the tribe from re-filing its claims in federal, state or tribal court.
In 2018, the tribe pursued an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, as well as filing a separate complaint in Window Rock District Court.
According to court documents, an order to voluntarily dismiss the appeal was issued on Aug. 20 and each party is responsible for their own costs associated with the case.
The settlement also settles claims filed in the tribal court.
Navajo Nation Attorney General Doreen N. McPaul said the settlement compensates the tribe and avoids the uncertainty and expense of ongoing litigation.
"We held Wells Fargo accountable for their actions and we will continue to hold other companies accountable if their business practices do not respect our people – this puts other companies on notice that harmful business practices against the Navajo people will not be tolerated," Nez said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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