KINGMAN, Ariz. - The team that built one of the world's best attractions has crumbled.
Grand Canyon Skywalk developer David Jin filed a number of motions in court Feb. 16 to halt the Hualapai Tribe's takeover of the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
The tribe announced Feb. 8 it was taking control of the contract that governs the Skywalk, a glass bridge that juts out from the rim of the Grand Canyon, through eminent domain. The takeover occurred one day before the tribe was supposed to present documents supporting their case in arbitration hearings.
The tribe has valued Jin's contribution to the Skywalk contract at nearly $11 million. Jin puts the value at closer to $100 million.
The tribe and Jin have been battling over the Skywalk nearly since the day it opened. Jin claims that the tribe has not paid him his fair share of the profits. The tribe claims that Jin has not finished the Skywalk's visitor center. Jin has countered that the tribe issued a stop order that prevents him from finishing the center.
The two sides entered arbitration talks last fall after two court cases Jin filed to prevent the tribe from taking over the Skywalk contract through eminent domain were dismissed from the Hualapai Tribal Court and the U.S. District Court of Arizona.
According to records from the U.S. District Court for Arizona, Jin filed motions for a preliminary injunction, a temporary restraining order and an expedited court hearing Thursday against members of the Hualapai Tribal Council and Sa' Nyu Wa, the organization that manages the tribe's interest in the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Jin is asking the court to:
Stop the takeover of his company's portion of the Skywalk contract;
Force the tribe back to the arbitration table;
Rule the tribe's eminent domain ordinance unconstitutional;
Rule that the tribe and its members conspired to take the contract from him;
Rule that the tribe repay him for the damage to his property and refund him for any court costs.
Jin's company is Grand Canyon Skywalk Development.
He is also asking the court to prevent either party from withdrawing money from a trust account where all of the profits from the Skywalk are deposited.
The tribe ended arbitration talks after it seized the Skywalk, saying when it took over the contract it effectively became Grand Canyon Skywalk Development and was not going to continue arbitration with itself.
In the motions, Jin's attorney argued that the tribe does not have the authority to take the contract from Jin because he is not a member of the tribe, it has violated his constitutional rights as an American citizen by taking over the contract, it violated the rules of the contract by ending arbitration, it damaged property that belonged to Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, and it damaged Jin's reputation with his vendors and customers.
Jin alleges that members of the tribe have intimidated his employees; replaced his cash register and inventory system with one that not able to adequately track sales of food, tickets or souvenirs; cut the lines to security cameras and a web camera; and replaced the locks on all the doors and safes at the facility.
Employees have also told him that tribal members have told them that they need to re-apply for their jobs.
Jin has also received complaints from vendors who have been told that their Skywalk tickets are no longer good and will have to be redeemed for tribally issued tickets.
The court documents include several sworn statements from Grand Canyon Skywalk Development employees backing up Jin's claims.
Jin expressed concern that these changes will make good employees leave, make it impossible to adequately track revenues from the Skywalk, open the Skywalk up to liability issues from people who are injured at the site, and impact his ability to do business, especially with foreign tourists.
In court documents, Jin said he feels the tribe has taken over the Skywalk because it is afraid its books will show discrepancies in the amount of money it has taken in though the Skywalk.
Tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak said he couldn't address all of the allegations Jin and the employees made in the court documents individually, but denied them and encouraged the public come out and visit the Skywalk.
"It's disappointing that Mr. Jin would spread false allegations and attempt to mislead tourists visiting Grand Canyon West," he said. "The Skywalk is open for business and operations are running better than ever under the tribe's management."
Cieslak added he was not surprised by the latest turn in the legal battle.
"Sadly, we predicted that Mr. Jin's army of lawyers would resort to desperate tactics like filing yet another federal court action," he said. "A federal judge has previously ruled that Mr. Jin needs to pursue this in tribal court, and we anticipate this latest action will be summarily dismissed - much like the two lawsuits he filed last year against the Hualapai people."
According to court documents, the previous Hualapai Court case was dismissed because the court ruled that the contract did not give it the authority to hear the case. The federal court case was dismissed because Jin had not exhausted all of his options in the Hualapai Court. The federal judge gave Jin the option of refiling his case in federal court once he had exhausted all remedies in the tribal court. The Hualapai Judge ruled that Jin has met that requirement.