Disney Asks Florida Court To Toss Lawsuit Brought By Ron DeSantis’s Handpicked Board Over Walt Disney World Jurisdiction
The Walt Disney Co. is asking a judge to dismiss or stay a state lawsuit brought by the special district that oversees its Florida resort property.
In a motion filed in Florida state court in Orange County (read it here), Disney called the lawsuit “moot,” also claimed that state law requires that the state court sideline the litigation until the company’s own federal case against Governor Ron DeSantis is resolved.
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“Disney’s earlier-filed and earlier-served federal action is pending between substantially the same parties, and it involves substantially overlapping issues,” the company’s legal team said in its brief, filed on Tuesday. “In these circumstances, controlling precedents provide that the court lacks discretion to proceed with this case. Disney regrets that it is compelled to litigate these issues anywhere, but the federal action is the proper vehicle for first hearing the parties’ dispute.”
Disney sued DeSantis in federal court last month over the governor’s effort to strip the company of control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special district that has overseen its Florida property for the past 55 years, and appoint his own members. Disney said that DeSantis’ efforts violated the its First Amendment and other constitutional rights because it was done in retaliation for the company’s opposition to a state parental rights bill, known as the “don’t say gay” law.
But after that lawsuit was filed, the governor’s appointees to the special district, newly named the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, filed their own lawsuit against the company in state court. They want a judge to declare a set of Disney development agreements with the special district void and unenforceable. The agreements, which ensure that the company still maintained autonomy on what gets built on its property and surrounding land, were approved by the Reedy Creek special district just weeks before it passed from Disney’s control to the state.
DeSantis recently signed a bill that voided Disney’s development contacts and prohibited the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District from complying with them. In their most recent motion, Disney’s attorneys argued that DeSantis’ action “makes any order this Court could issue—in either party’s favor—legally irrelevant.”
“If the Court rejects the board’s claims on their merits and agrees with Disney that the contracts complied with any procedural and substantive requirements of state law, the board would still be prohibited from complying with them under the new state statute,” according to the company in its motion. “For the same reason, even if the Court found merit in the board’s objections to the contracts, any order to that effect would be pointless because the contracts would already be void under the new state statute. In short, any declaration about the contracts’ enforceability, voidness, or validity—either way—would be an advisory opinion with no real-world consequence. Trial courts in Florida are forbidden from issuing advisory opinions, and this case should be dismissed.”
Disney wants the case fought in federal court, as it believes that it has a good constitutional argument to make about DeSantis’s use of government power to punish private entities. In the federal case, Disney is asking that a judge restore its authority over the special district, arguing that DeSantis’s actions violated its constitutional rights. It also wants the judge to uphold the development contracts.
In Disney’s state motion, the company’s legal team wrote, “Faced with a newly hostile state administration, Disney aimed to protect its planned investments in Central Florida—including thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in capital over the next decade—by executing two development contracts with the local government body that had managed the special district where Disney has been located for more than 50 years. Public notice appeared twice in a prominent Orlando newspaper, and there were two public hearings on the subject. Over no objection, the contracts were executed in early February.”
The oversight board’s chairman did not immediately return a request for comment.
Meanwhile, the Disney movie Strange World has been targeted by a parent in one Florida school district because it features a gay character. A Hernando County fifth grade teacher, Jenna Barbee, said in a TikTok post that she was under investigation by the state Department of Education after she showed the film in her class. She said that parents had a signed permission slip for her to show PG movies. The state parental rights law prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. It originally applied to K-3, but was recently expanded to all grades.
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