Sacramento’s Golden 1 Credit Union suing 21-year-old auto dealer

What’s in a name? If you’re the Golden 1 Credit Union and you’ve put up $120 million for the naming rights to the Sacramento Kings arena, quite a lot.

And the Sacramento-based institution with more than $15 billion in assets is willing to protect its name, even if it means going to court.

So that’s what lawyers for Golden 1 did this month, filing a trademark infringement and unfair competition lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento against Golden 1 Auto Sales, a tiny garage on a side street near the Capital City Freeway and El Camino Avenue that currently has 19 vehicles for sale.

“Golden 1 has suffered and is suffering irreparable harm as a result of defendant’s infringing conduct, and it has no adequate remedy at law,” the suit, filed by Sacramento legal powerhouse Downey Brand, says. “Defendant’s infringement has caused and is causing harm to Golden 1’s reputation and goodwill such that Golden 1 cannot be made whole by a monetary award.”

Abdullah Alnagoma, the 21-year-old owner of Golden 1 Auto Sales, says he’s not trying to harm anyone, that he named the business he opened in March after another car dealer he worked for on Fulton Avenue called Golden Auto Sales.

“It’s really surprising to me” Alnagoma said Thursday. “Like, it’s Golden 1 Auto Sales, it’s not like a Golden 1 Credit Union.

“It’s not like I’m going against their industry. I’m actually going to see a lawyer (Friday). I tried to contact Golden 1 by phone but nobody answers.”

Few could mistake Alnagoma’s operation with one of Golden 1’s more than 70 branches. It is housed in a strip of small, used car lots on Woolley Way in Swanston Estates near a lawn mower repair shop. The office is a cramped cubicle with one desk and looks out into a garage with a few cars.

But Golden 1 says it has had exclusive rights to the trademark since 1976, notes that as part of its business it offers automobile financing and says Alnagoma’s sign is “confusingly similar” to Golden 1’s.

“Golden 1 is informed and believes and based thereon alleges that defendant is using the fictitious business name and trademark ‘Golden 1 Auto Sales’ (the “infringing mark”) in connection with its sale of automobiles, automobile financing, and the operation of an automobile dealership in Sacramento, California,’ the lawsuit says. “Because consumers associate the Golden 1 marks with Golden 1 and its services, consumers are likely to be confused by defendant’s use of the infringing mark.”

The credit union sent a cease-and-desist letter to Alnagoma on Aug. 19, the lawsuit says, and never heard back, so the lawsuit was filed seeking an order halting Alnagoma from using the name and for three times the amount of Golden 1’s damages and any profits Alnagoma derived from using the name.

Alnagoma says he is a student and takes care of his family members and has been struggling since the pandemic to get by, and that he wants to find a way to resolve the issue.

“I’m not trying to go against them or anything like that, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to solve the issue,” he said. “That’s how I make a living, take care of my family, pay my rent.”

But changing the name means the time and expense of getting a new business license from the city, he said.

“It’s tough right now, especially during the coronavirus,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to change the license.”

Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.

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