San Francisco • A Las Vegas developer has been bounced between tribal and federal court in an effort to protect his financial interest in the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a popular glass bridge that extends from the canyon’s edge on tribal land in western Arizona.
On Friday, David Jin’s attorneys will argue before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that the Hualapai tribal court system hasn’t given Jin a fair shot and that he shouldn’t have to fight his legal battles there.
The tribe has denied those allegations and will urge the San Francisco court to uphold a ruling that said Jin first must exhaust remedies in tribal court. By signing a contract with a business arm of the tribe in 2003, Jin allowed it to be governed by Hualapai law, the tribe said.
Jin invested $30 million to build the horseshoe-shaped bridge that gives visitors a view of the Colorado River 4,000 feet below. He and the Hualapai Tribe have been locked in a contract dispute that led the tribe to sever the contract with Jin and for Jin to pursue legal action for alleged constitutional violations.
The contract dispute itself isn’t up for review by the appellate court, only the jurisdictional question. There is an exception to exhausting tribal court remedies if Jin’s attorneys can prove that the tribal court — not the Tribal Council — has acted in bad faith. He’s been unsuccessful so far.
Jin also argues that the tribal court lacks civil jurisdiction over him and the corporation he formed to manage the Skywalk, the Nevada-based Grand Canyon Skywalk Development.
No court has ruled on Jin’s claims that he is owed for years of unpaid management fees or the tribe’s claims that Jin failed to complete a visitor center. A tribal court judge rejected an attempt by Jin to force arbitration because the tribal defendants are protected from lawsuits by sovereign immunity.
The federal District Court repeatedly has said that the tribal court has the first right to hear the case. The two sides don’t agree on an arbiter’s decision to award Jin about $28 million in the contract dispute.