Judge rules against Grand Canyon Skywalk developer

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) March 2012
A Las Vegas developer must keep fighting in tribal court as he tries to retain his contractual rights to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a federal judge ruled.

David Jin invested $30 million to build the glass bridge on the Hualapai reservation in northwestern Arizona and signed a revenue-sharing and management contract with the tribe in 2003. But the two sides have been locked in a dispute for the past year that led the tribe to cut Jin out of the contract and Jin to pursue legal remedies to what he claims are violations of his constitutional rights.

Attorneys for Jin recently argued that the tribe acted in bad faith in asserting tribal court jurisdiction, but U.S. District Judge David Campbell disagreed. The judge said Jin must first exhaust remedies in tribal court in Peach Springs and issued a stay in the federal case.

Jin’s attorneys said they will challenge the ruling but have not yet decided on a venue. They said they are surprised by what they called a narrow interpretation of the law regarding the bad faith exception to exhausting remedies in tribal court. Campbell ruled that bad faith must be demonstrated by the tribal court itself, rather than the Tribal Council.

“This is unprecedented in that we’re aware of no case where a tribe has taken the contractual rights of a non-(American) Indian in this kind of fashion,” said attorney Mark Tratos.

A spokesman for the tribe, Dave Cieslak, said the ruling reaffirms that tribal court is the proper venue and called Jin’s claims “frivolous.”

Campbell had ruled similarly in a case brought by Jin in which the developer sought to keep the tribe from enforcing an eminent domain ordinance over the contract before it targeted him.

Jin has argued that the tribe failed to pay him his share of profits for his investment in the Skywalk, which juts out 70 feet from the Grand Canyon and gives visitors a view of the Colorado River 4,000 feet below.

The tribe contends that Jin has not completed a visitor center that tourists must walk through to get onto the Skywalk.

The two sides were in arbitration when the Tribal Council voted to sever the contract with Jin, therefore pulling out of the proceedings. An arbiter has not dismissed the case, and a hearing is set for April 2.

A case in tribal court focuses on a temporary restraining order that members of the Tribal Council received to prohibit Jin from destroying or taking any property at the Skywalk.