Disney wants to narrow the scope of its lawsuit against DeSantis to free speech claim

One of Walt Disney World's "gateway" entrances. (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Disney wants to narrow the scope of its federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis to just a free speech claim that the Florida governor retaliated against the company because of its public opposition to a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.

Disney on Friday asked a federal judge for permission to file an amended complaint focusing just on the First Amendment claim and leaving to another, state-court lawsuit questions about the legality of agreements the company signed with Disney World's governing district, then-made up of Disney supporters. The agreements were signed before DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature took over the governmental body in the spring.

The agreements shifted control of design and construction at the theme park resort from the new DeSantis appointees on the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) to Disney. The DeSantis appointees are now challenging the legality of the agreements in state court. DeSantis isn't a party in the state court lawsuit.

“Disney faces concrete, imminent, and ongoing injury as a result of CFTOD’s new powers and composition, which are being used to punish Disney for expressing a political view," said Disney's federal court motion.

The revised complaint would challenge “this unconstitutional weaponization of government by seeking a declaratory judgment that will allow Disney to pursue its future in Florida free from the ongoing retaliatory actions of the CFTOD Board,” Disney said.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Friday rejected Disney's motion to narrow the scope because of a procedural rule requiring Disney attorneys to confer with DeSantis' attorneys before filing such a request. The judge said Disney could refile its request after complying with the court rule. An email seeking comment was sent to Disney attorneys on Sunday.

The Disney request, as well as other recent motions filed in the state case, demonstrate how the fates of the two lawsuits have become intertwined, especially after Disney filed a counter-claim in the state case asserting many of the same claims made in the federal case. Disney filed the counter claim after the state court judge refused Disney’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

The fight between DeSantis and Disney began last year after the company, facing significant pressure internally and externally, publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”

As punishment, DeSantis took over the district through legislation passed by Florida lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors to oversee municipal services for the sprawling theme parks and hotels. But the new supervisors’ authority was limited by the company’s agreements with predecessors.

In response, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed legislation that repealed those agreements.

___

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP