Tribal courts equipped to handle business disputes, says 9th Circuit

2013-04-27T00:00:00Z Tribal courts equipped to handle business disputes, says 9th CircuitHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
April 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Private companies that do business on reservations with tribes and their corporations cannot automatically ask federal courts to intercede when legal disputes erupt, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

In a case involving the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the judges rejected arguments by the Nevada company that built the famous horseshoe-shaped glass structure hanging over the canyon. The company argued it should be able to sue the Hualapai Tribe in federal court for taking its right to operate the attraction through condemnation.

Judge Richard Tallman, writing for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said there was no reason to believe the firm could not get a fair hearing in tribal court.

Friday's ruling, though, will have little practical impact on much of the ongoing legal dispute.

Since the case was argued before the 9th Circuit in October, the tribal court concluded the firm, Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, was owed $28 million in revenues for operations between 2005 and 2008. The tribal corporation responded by declaring bankruptcy.

That automatically gave jurisdiction to federal bankruptcy court, Skywalk Development attorney Troy Eid said. That means that court will determine how his client can collect those funds, he said.

A separate legal dispute remains over profits since 2008, as well as the larger question of who has the right to operate the Skywalk. But Eid said his client is allowing that to work itself out in tribal court, which, in essence, is what the 9th Circuit said Friday needs to happen.

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