(CN) – The battle for the Grand Canyon Skywalk, seized last month by Arizona’s Hualapai tribe from a Las Vegas developer, belongs in tribal court, a federal judge ruled.
David Jin had filed a federal complaint against the tribe, but U.S. District Judge David Campbell stayed the case Monday and ordered Jin to exhaust his remedies in Hualapai Tribal Court, which is located in the tiny town of Peach Springs, along old Route 66 in northwestern Arizona.
Last month, the Hualapai Tribal Council condemned the Skywalk and handed the day-to-day management of the attraction to Sa’ Nyu Wa, a Hualapai-chartered corporation.
The move came after years of bad blood between the tribe and Jin, who says that the tribe has refused to report profits and generally interfered with his management of the Skywalk. Hualapai tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak told Courthouse News last month that the tribe took control of the Skywalk because Jin had failed to complete work promised under a 2003 agreement, including the construction of visitor center.
In a motion for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the tribe from taking the Skywalk, Jin argued that the case belonged in the District of Arizona because the tribal court had previously acted in bad faith. Specifically, he claimed that the tribal court’s chief judge, Duane Yellowhawk, had improperly refused to lift a prior restraining order upon recusing himself from the case based on his relation to members of the Hualapai Tribal Council.
Campbell disagreed that this amounted to bad faith, finding that the Tribal Court has acted with the proper independence throughout the proceedings thus far.
“Plaintiff’s arguments do not show that the Tribal Court has acted in bad faith,” he wrote. “The Tribal Court’s denial of jurisdiction over plaintiff’s motion to compel arbitration was correctly based on the Skywalk Agreement and showed deference to the parties’ choice of forum. The court’s recusal of judges related to members of the Tribal Council, and its striking down of the ordinance prohibiting pro tem judges from sitting on the condemnation case, were acts of judicial independence. Finally, Plaintiff has provided no tribal-law basis for the Court to conclude that the Tribal Court acted in bad faith when it approved the TRO.”
Campbell ordered the parties to file a joint status report in six months to “update the court on the developments of this action in Tribal Court.”
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a glass-bottom walkway that hangs 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon’s remote western reaches, on the vast Hualapai Indian Reservation in northwestern Arizona. The Hualapai Tribe – the “people of the tall pines” – has about 2,300 members, some 1,400 of which live on the reservation.