Judge dismisses federal lawsuit over Skywalk

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) July 2011

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to keep a northern Arizona tribe from severing its agreement with the developer of the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell did not address the claims brought by Las Vegas developer David Jin in his order dropping the case without prejudice, meaning Jin can refile it. Campbell ruled that Jin first must exhaust remedies in the Hualapai court in Peach Springs.

The Hualapai Tribal Council passed an eminent domain ordinance in April that Jin believes is aimed at ending a revenue-sharing contract he reached with the tribe. Jin asked a federal judge to determine the validity of the ordinance, but Campbell said the tribe has not sought to enforce it and may never do so.

“Plaintiff’s claim in this case challenges tribal authority to enact and enforce a tribal condemnation ordinance, a claim central to tribal self-government, and the tribal court must be given an opportunity to decide whether it has jurisdiction and to interpret the ordinance,” Campbell wrote.

Tribal Council members have said they would pay Jin fair market value for his $30 million investment in a glass bridge that extends from the Grand Canyon on the reservation should the tribal government enforce it. But they dispute Jin’s contention that he was the target.

Tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak said the tribe is pleased with Campbell’s decision on what it considers a “baseless lawsuit.

“We hope the judge’s ruling will convince Mr. Jin to stop disparaging the Hualapai people and filing lawsuits against the tribe,” he said.

Jin’s attorneys said they will file a motion for reconsideration Friday and accused the tribe of legal maneuvering.

“It is our view that the tribe’s lawyers are attempting to have the matter dismissed in both tribal and federal court so they have no judicial scrutiny as they attempt to seize Mr. Jin’s management contract through eminent domain,” said Jin attorney Mark Tratos.

Jin is trying to force arbitration with the Hualapai Nation through a separate lawsuit filed in tribal court. Jin contends the tribe has not paid him what he’s owed.

Under an agreement with the tribe, Jin is supposed to split revenues with the tribe for 25 years in exchange for his $30 million investment. Jin has said he received some of what he was owed in 2007 but not the accounting to back it up and nothing since then.

The tribe says the real issue is that Jin has shunned his responsibility to complete a visitor center that tourists must pass through to access the Skywalk.

The defendants in the tribal lawsuit that include members of the legislative body want that lawsuit dismissed, saying they never waived sovereign immunity.

Tribal Judge Ida Wilbur maintained jurisdiction over the matter and ordered the parties to produce documents in the dispute. She has scheduled two days next week for the parties to meet and discuss their differences before providing her a status report on June 30.