BY ROBERT THOMAS – There isn’t a whole lot of eminent domain action in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, LLC v. Sa Nyu Wa, Inc., No. 12-15634 (Apr. 26, 2013), and the issue the court analyzes is the relative jurisictions of the federal and tribal courts, but it still is an interesting read nonetheless.
The case involves the Hualapai Tribe’s efforts to condemn the rights of the non-Indian developer of that big glass bridge over the Grand Canyon. A dispute arose between the developer and a corporation chartered by the tribe over a revenue-sharing contract, and while the corporation and the developer were arbitrating their disagreement, the tribe instituted an eminent domain action in tribal court to condemn the developer’s “intangible rights in the contract, which practically speaking left [the tribal corporation] in contract with the Hualapai Tribe.” Slip op. at 5. The developer filed suit in U.S. District Court, asserting the tribe lacked jurisdiction to condemn its property because, among other reasons, the tribe was acting in bad faith.
The District Court held that the developer would need to exhaust tribal remedies before the federal court could hear its claims, and the Ninth Circuit agreed. Read the opinion if you’d like the details of why, but the short story is that if you voluntarily enter into an agreement with an Indian tribe to undertake a development in Indian Country, you don’t have much to complain about when a tribal court exercises jurisdiction, even if you are not Indian. And you can only go to federal court after you’ve exhausted your tribal court remedies.
More on the Ninth Circuit’s ruling here, from Turtle Talk