Disney amends lawsuit against DeSantis, focuses solely on First Amendment claim

by | Sep 8, 2023

  • Disney has narrowed its lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis to focus primarily on First Amendment claims related to alleged political retaliation, reducing the lawsuit from its original multi-faceted stance.
  • The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis has threatened Disney’s business operations and constitutional rights by making public remarks about punitive actions such as taxes, tolls, property development, and the placement of a state prison near Walt Disney World.
  • Disney contends that it is taking a stand against state retaliation for “expressing its views.”

Disney has narrowed its lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis to focus solely on First Amendment claims related to alleged political retaliation.

The lawsuit, originally multi-faceted, now centers primarily on First Amendment claims related to allegations of political retaliation by DeSantis, pared down from the original five-pronged legal challenge. According to representatives for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), its Board of Directors accepted Disney’s proposal to “backtrack on key claims” in their federal case on Thursday.

In its amended complaint, Disney asserts that DeSantis has threatened its business operations, economic prospects, and constitutional rights. The company contends that the governor’s public remarks about potential punitive actions, such as imposing taxes and tolls, developing property, and even locating a state prison near Walt Disney World, have intensified the dispute, and amounts to retributive action.

“Disney finds itself in this regrettable position because it expressed a viewpoint the Governor and his allies did not like, reads the filing. “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.”

In August, the CFTOD Board called into question the validity of Disney’s First Amendment claims, with attorneys asserting that the state of Florida possesses the sovereign power to shape its representative government’s operations. A reply brief filed last month contends that the First Amendment’s Speech Clause doesn’t curtail the state’s decision-making authority in this regard.

‘This rule is no more than a recognition of a State’s constitutional responsibility for the establishment and operation of its own government,” the brief reads. “The Speech Clause of the First Amendment does not constrain this exercise of State sovereignty.”

Judge Allen Winsor initially rejected Disney’s motion to condense the challenge late last week, stating that it could be refiled after conferring with the defendants and complying with local court rules. Disney filed the federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in April, accusing DeSantis and state officials of launching a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the company for expressing an unpopular political viewpoint. DeSantis, in turn, has been pushing for the lawsuit’s dismissal while a counter-lawsuit in state court continues.

Disney’s federal lawsuit followed legislation signed by DeSantis that restructured the district encompassing Walt Disney World Resort, allowing the state more oversight of Disney’s extensive operations. The company alleges that these actions were retaliatory, taken after Disney publicly opposed the Parental Rights in Education law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in Kindergarten through 3rd grade. This law has been referred to by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” policy.


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