Grand Canyon Skywalk Dev. v. 'Sa' Nyu Wa Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: 04-26-2013
  • Case #: 12-15634
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judges Fisher and Callahan
  • Full Text Opinion

A tribal court may assert jurisdiction over non-Indian corporations on tribal land where the corporation has entered into a consensual agreement with an Indian corporation and the bad faith and futility exceptions to the exhaustion of tribal remedies requirement are not met when the bad faith actor is merely a party and not the tribal court itself and there are still adequate opportunities to challenge the tribal court’s jurisdiction.

Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, LLC (“GCSD”) entered into a revenue-sharing contract with Sa Nyu Wa (“SNW”), a Hualapai Indian Tribe corporation, to develop and manage a tourist attraction, Skywalk, on Hualapai tribal land. When a dispute arose, the Hualapai Indian Tribal Council condemned GCSD’s intangible property rights in the contract, using its eminent domain power. GCSD filed suit against SNW, claiming that the tribal court lacked authority to condemn its rights. The district court held that GCSD failed to exhaust all tribal council remedies before bringing suit and that GCSD’s claim did not fail within one of the futility or bad faith exceptions to the exhaustion requirement. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that GCSD could not bring its claim challenging the Hualapai Tribe’s condemnation of its intangible property rights until it had exhausted all remedies available within the tribal court system. The panel further held that neither of the exhaustion exemptions applied. In order for the bad faith exception to apply, the bad faith actor must have been the tribal court itself and not merely one of the parties. Additionally, GCSD’s claim did not fall within the futility exception because there was still “adequate opportunity” to challenge the tribal court’s jurisdiction. Finally, the panel held that the tribal court had primary jurisdiction because a tribal council has natural authority over non-Indians on tribal land and further that GCSD entered into a consensual relationship with SNW. AFFIRMED.

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