Skywalk arbitration bid nixed

PEACH SPRINGS - A dispute over one of Northern Arizona's greatest tourist attractions may be headed back to federal court. Hualapai Tribal Court Judge Ida Wilber granted a request from 'Sa Nyu Wa, a branch of the Hualapai Tribe that operates Grand Canyon West, to dismiss Skywalk developer David Jin's request for arbitration in the tribal court on Tuesday.

Jin filed an injunction in federal court in April to prevent the tribe from taking over by eminent domain the Skywalk, a glass-bottomed structure that juts out from the rim of the Grand Canyon on tribal lands. Jin values the Skywalk at about $30 million and has said that he doesn't believe the tribe has the money to compensate him if it does take it by eminent domain.

Jin's federal case was dismissed in June. However, Federal Judge David Campbell told Jin he could re-file in federal court after he had exhausted all of his options in the Hualapai Tribal Court.

At the same time, the two sides have been battling in private talks and in the Hualapai Court about who is responsible for finishing the visitors center and how the profits from the Skywalk should be split.

Wilber wrote in her ruling Tuesday that she agreed with the tribe's attorneys that 'Sa Nyu Wa enjoyed the same sovereign immunity as the tribal government and that, according to the Skywalk contract, 'Sa Nyu Wa had only waived its immunity to mandatory arbitration in federal court.

That contract eliminated the enforcement of arbitration in the Hualapai Court for this case only, Wilber wrote. She also wrote that she was disappointed that the attorneys who negotiated the contract for 'Sa Nyu Wa had counseled the group to seek arbitration outside of the Hualapai Court's jurisdiction and that 'Sa Nyu Wa may only be delaying the inevitable by saying that it can only be forced into arbitration in a federal court.

Wilber also stated in her ruling that Jin had exhausted all remedies in the tribal court and could seek resolution in a federal court.

"We are pleased with Judge Wilber's careful legal analysis, but we remain disappointed by David Jin's behavior throughout this unfortunate situation. Now that his lawsuits have failed in both federal and tribal court, the next step is clear - Mr. Jin must stop his barrage of disparagement against the Hualapai people and start honoring his contract. The Hualapai Tribe continues to review all available remedies to this dispute with one focus in mind: providing a world-class experience for thousands of tourists who visit the Grand Canyon Skywalk each day," said Dave Cieslak, tribal spokesman.

Jin's spokeswoman, Aimee Romero, said Jin is considering re-filing the case in federal court.