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4/29/2013 6:00:00 AM
Tribe calls Skywalk ruling 'significant victory'
Other side of case says ruling is of 'no consequence'

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that requires Grand Canyon Skywalk developer David Jin to exhaust all remedies in the Hualapai Tribal courts before moving to the federal court system.

"This is a significant victory for the Hualapai people and for tribal sovereignty," said Dave Cieslak, a spokesman for the Hualapai Tribal Council. "The 9th Circuit's ruling shows deference to the tribal court system and its jurisdiction over these matters."

Mark Tratos, an attorney for Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, called the ruling "late and of virtually no consequence."

"The 9th Circuit's decision comes after the Hualapai Tribal Court already decided that the proper place for resolution of future Grand Canyon Skywalk fees and rights due David Jin is in arbitration. Judge King ordered that the parties resolve their contractual disputes by seeking an arbitration order in federal court," he said in an emailed statement.

"We are confident, as we were when the U.S. District Court awarded David Jin $28.6 million in past management fees, that the federal arbitration process will protect David Jin's future rights to the Skywalk."

The Skywalk is a glass-bottom walkway that juts out over the rim of the Grand Canyon on Hualapai Tribal lands. It opened to the public in 2007.

Jin and Sa' Nyu Wa, the Hualapai tribal organization in charge of running the Skywalk, have been fighting since 2009 over who is responsible for finishing the attraction's visitor center and how the profits from it are to be split. The tribe and Jin were supposed to split the profits of the venture for 25 years.

The disagreement reached a breaking point in 2011 when the Hualapai Council used eminent domain to take over the Skywalk contract and Jin filed a complaint in federal court. The judge dismissed the case, saying the Jin needed to exhaust all remedies available to him in the Hualapai Courts before he could bring action in the federal court.

Jin then filed a complaint in the Hualapai Court. The Hualapai Judge dismissed the case, saying according to the contract she had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Jin then asked the American Arbitration Association to hear the dispute, according to the rules listed in the contract. An arbiter awarded Jin's company $28.6 million in unpaid fees and damages in August 2012. In order to make sure it got the award, Jin filed a request to enforce the order in Arizona's U.S. District Court.

Sa Nyu Wa claimed the arbitration order was invalid, because Jin didn't get a federal court order forcing arbitration between the two parties.

The district court upheld the arbitration award and Sa' Nyu Wa appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in February.

Sa' Nyu Wa filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March and control of the Skywalk contract was taken over by Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, another corporation owned by the Hualapai tribe. The bankruptcy is also currently sitting before the 9th Circuit but was placed on hold while the court decided the first case.

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Related Stories:
• Toll road raises stakes in Skywalk dispute
• Hualapai 'couldn't keep up' after taking over Skywalk
• Bankruptcy makes Skywalk case even more twisted
• $28.5 million Skywalk verdict stands

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Former Employee

How does one complete a visitor center without power or water? Sounds like a difficult task, which is perhaps why Mr. Jin did not do it. This whole thing is a joke. And how is being supported by tax dollars make a nation sovereign? It's all too fishy, no matter which side you look at it from. And eminent domain was certainly not the first step to fixing the problems.

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

@Donna Wickerd
I didn't get that detailed...but I am aware the center wasn't finished...
Wasn't there a requirement that the Tribe provide the utilities to the building which was never completed or at least not until quite a while after the construction was mostly done on the building and the dispute was started? No one would ever fully construct a home or building without having the required water and sewer already in place. I believe that was a major bone of contention in this issue...along with the reported fact that the books were never made available for review by an independent party.

Why didn't the Tribe bring suit against Mr Jin about the non-completion before he filed? Did they? I've never seen any report of that IIRC. What would you do if you built a house but the garage in the contract was not completed. Would you just live there for 2 or 3 years and say nothing?

The telling fact, at least to me, is that the Tribe declared bankruptcy in one corporation, thus limiting their liability and then turned around and gave the whole thing to another corporation. Both are controlled by the Tribe....that just stinks to high heaven. It's nothing but a shell game....

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Article comment by: Donna Wickerd

V are missing the important claim by the Hualapai that Jin never completed the visitor center and therefore didn't fulfill his contract, and therefore is not entitled to ownership....if the visitor center were done, the tribe would have been able to make profits, by completing only the skywalk itself Jin ensured that the tribe would only get a small share of that ticket price but not be able to profit from the concessions that were part of the original deal and were what made it worthwhile for the tribe to go into partnership with him. Why would they allow him to build this huge edifice on their land in return for nothing?

Jin built half the skywalk...the half that he owns...but refused to build the half that was promised to the tribe in he wants all the profits. least in Peach Springs, corporations do not have the power to make HUMANS bow down to their profiteering!

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

I have to agree with Is there any doubt? All the reporting seems to indicate they just want to take it over without paying anything. Eminent domain normally requires "just compensation", at least in the rest of the U.S. That also is supposed to include the value of the property in the future. Whether that applies to an operating business , I'm not sure.

I equate it to this.... A person negotiates a contract to mine for gold on a piece of land agreeing to share profits after initial investment is at least partially repaid or they agree to split the investment. That person finds a rich vein estimated to produce X amount of profit over X amount of years. The land owners provide a labor force to mine the gold and manage the company, but then decides they want to keep all the profit and take it back by eminent domain, only agreeing to pay back the investor his initial investment and the profit to that date. Then after the investor sues, they dissolve the management company and say they won't pay anything.

Sounds pretty close to whats going on here.

Do I fault the entire Tribe for this...heck no! But I believe many are being led down a primrose path by a few of their leadership. Just look at what's gone on internally on their Council. Minority dissenters are suspended or booted off. Why is that?

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013
Article comment by: Is there any doubt?

The only information that I have regarding this topic is the information from this paper, but by all accounts it seems pretty clear that the Hualapai Tribe is basically trying to get out of their contract in an effort to keep more money. It may be that I am reading this wrong, and if so someone please correct me.

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