Disney sues DeSantis in US court alleging campaign of retaliation, rights violations

Read Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis below

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Walt Disney Company is going to court against Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida, as the fight between DeSantis and Disney continues.

The company filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday, accusing the state and the governor of violating the company’s First Amendment, contracting and due process constitutional rights in a “concerted campaign of retaliation because the company expressed an opinion with which the government disagreed.”

That opinion came a year ago when Disney’s former CEO Robert Chapek criticized state lawmakers over the Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”

In retaliation, the Republican majority in the Florida Legislature, at the governor’s request, passed a law that dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special government oversight and taxing agency created in the 1960s when Disney entered into an agreement with the state to form the land to build Walt Disney World.

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The state then passed a law to rename the district the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, with a board handpicked by the governor.

However, the new board soon learned that Disney and Reedy Creek entered into an agreement in the weeks before the old board dissolved that stripped the new board of much of its power over Disney property and gave it to the company for decades.

The move was called a “legal fiction” by DeSantis, but Disney said the deal was made in public with all of the properly filed notices.

Since then, DeSantis, the new board and Florida legislators have escalated attacks to tighten control over the district, including attempts to invalidate that agreement and the subjection of Disney rides and the monorail to inspection by the state. DeSantis and his board have also hinted at developments on Disney property, raising tolls and taxes, and at one point even joked about building a state prison.

All of this was laid out in Disney’s complaint against the state and its lawsuit announcement.

“Disney finds itself in this regrettable position because it expressed a viewpoint the Governor and his allies did not like. Disney wishes that things could have been resolved a different way. But Disney also knows that it is fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation—a stand smaller businesses and individuals might not be able to take when the State comes after them for expressing their own views. In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind,” Disney wrote in its suit.

Disney is seeking injunctive relief from Florida’s actions, claiming the state violated several U.S. constitutional clauses with its actions. It wants the courts to declare the state’s laws dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District as unlawful and unenforceable, and also force the tourism oversight board to honor the contract Disney entered into with the former RCID.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board was expected to file its own legal challenge to Disney’s actions with Reedy Creek at a special meeting on Wednesday.

DeSantis’ office replied to the lawsuit announcement in a statement:

We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state.

This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.

Communications Director Taryn Fenske | Executive Office of the Governor

Read the lawsuit:

Read Disney lawsuit’s Exhibit A:

Read Disney lawsuit’s Exhibit B:

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.