Tribe calls Skywalk ruling 'significant victory'

Other side of case says ruling is of 'no consequence'

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.