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9/3/2013 10:02:00 AM
Hualapai and development company argue over latest Grand Canyon Skywalk ruling
Navajo-Hopi Observer

KINGMAN, Ariz - David Jin's family lost the latest round, but has not been knocked out in the battle with the Hualapai Tribal Council over their share of the proceeds from ticket sales to the Skywalk.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell recently dismissed a request by Jin's company, Grand Canyon Skywalk Development (GCSD), to add the Hualapai Tribe and its individual council members to the list of people it is suing to make sure it gets the $28.5 million it was awarded in arbitration.

He also ruled, for the third time, that the federal court does not have jurisdiction over the case until the developerment exhausts all remedies in the Hualapai Tribal Court. A ruling that the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals upheld earlier this year, Campbell pointed out in his ruling.

The ruling essentially means that the Hualapai Court has to settle whether the council was within its rights to take over GCSD's half of the Skywalk contract and how much money the tribe should

give the company in compensation before Grand Canyon Skywalk can bring the issue before the federal court.

"I think this is the sixth time (Grand Canyon Skywalk Development) has been rebuffed by the federal court," said Tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak. "I cannot figure out why Jin's family is spending millions of dollars on court cases they keep losing."

"We are pleased with the decision," said Mark Tratos, the attorney for GCSD. "We sought arbitration in the U.S. District Court concerning Grand Canyon Skywalk management fees and damages due the development. Our experts have estimated those fees and damages due GCSD in excess of $277 million. Hualapai Tribal Court Judge King sent us to federal court for resolution of this issue, however his direction was ambiguous. There will be a valuation of the development's rights, whether that occurs in tribal court or at arbitration. In the meantime, Tribal Council Chairwoman Sherry Counts continues to call the West Rim, which includes the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a 'gold mine.' We're glad she sees it that way."

In his ruling, Campbell dismissed Grand Canyon Skywalk Development's argument that the four-sentence minute entry by Hualapai Court Judge Lawrence King stating that the two sides "will pursue contract remedies in Federal Court" as proof that the case should now be heard in federal court. Campbell pointed out that recent minute entries from King for a revised trial schedule shows that King expects the two sides to continue to argue their case before him.

If the Hualapai Court decides in the council's favor and Grand Canyon Skywalk Development appeals the ruling to Arizona's federal district court, the company will still have to struggle to prove that the tribal council should be held accountable for paying the $28.5 million arbitration award.

In his ruling, Campbell dismissed Grand Canyon Skywalk Development's argument that the tribal council could be forced into arbitration talks because it had taken over Sa' Nyu Wa, the tribal organization that was in charge of the Skywalk before it filed for bankruptcy last year.

While the council had waived its sovereign immunity by filing its eminent domain claim in tribal court, Campbell wrote, it did not waive its immunity to being forced into arbitration talks.

Sovereign immunity protects government officials and boards from being sued for actions that they commit while carrying out the legal duties of their office.

In fact, the contract between Grand Canyon Skywalk Development and Sa' Nyu Wa exempts the Hualapai Nation from being sued for any damages, fees or awards in connection with the Skywalk, Campbell wrote.

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