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Business dispute with Indian tribe must stay in tribal court

A lawsuit over a business contract between a Las Vegas real estate developer and the Hualapai Indian tribe will have to continue to be hashed out in tribal court for now, according to a March 19 ruling by a federal judge. The developer had sought to shift the litigation to U.S. federal court, but now may have to exhaust all of his appeals in the Hualapai court system before he can do so.

Attorneys for the developer, who invested $30 million in a glass walking bridge that juts out over a portion of the Grand Canyon to provide a view of the Colorado River from 4,000 feet up, said that the U.S. District Court ruling was overly narrow in that it found that the plaintiff failed to find that the tribe had acted in bad faith, rather than simply the Tribal Council. One attorney said that the decision was "unprecedented" in the history of contractual disputes between tribal and non-tribal business entities.

The case revolves around the investor's claim that the Hualapai tribe did not pay him his percentage of the profits earned by the bridge, called the Skywalk. In response, tribal leaders say that the developer did not hold up his end of the contract by completing construction on a tourist visitor center.

The Tribal Council voted to end the contract and pull out of arbitration with the developer. However, the arbitration is ongoing, with a hearing set for April 2. Meanwhile, the tribal court is handling a temporary restraining order filed by the Tribal Council against the developer to prevent him from dismantling the Skywalk.

Those proceedings will continue in their current venues unless the developer successfully appeals the U.S. District Court ruling, which his attorneys have vowed to do.

Source: Las Vegas Sun, "Judge rules against Grand Canyon Skywalk developer," March 19, 2012

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