- The Walt Disney Company has filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis on the grounds of “governmental retaliation” in response to DeSantis’s decision to take control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
- The dispute over control of the district dates back to last year, with tensions arising after Disney publicly opposed a bill related to topics on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
- DeSantis signed legislation that stripped Disney of control over Reedy Creek, renaming it the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” and giving DeSantis the right to appoint the Board of Supervisors.
- Disney has accused the governor of unconstitutional retaliation, with DeSantis’s administration claiming they were within their legal rights to take control of the special district.
The Walt Disney Company announced on Wednesday that it has filed a 77-page federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis on the grounds that he engaged in “governmental retaliation” when the state gained control of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID).
The suit serves as the most recent development in an ongoing dispute dating back to last year over control of RCID. Tensions arose as DeSantis directed his attention towards the district — which grants Disney special administrative authority over its parks and resorts — after the company publicly opposed a bill that limits the teaching of topics related to gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
DeSantis signed legislation earlier this year that stripped Disney’s control of Reedy Creek, officially renaming it as the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” and granting the governor the power to appoint its Board of Supervisors.
The supervisors — Sarasota school board member Bridget Ziegler, Attorney Brian Aungst, Jr., Seminole County Bar Association President Mike Sasso, CEO of The Gathering USA Ron Peri, and attorney Martin Garcia — all appear in the lawsuit alongside DeSantis.
“There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so,” reads the legal action. “This is as clear a case of retaliation as this Court is ever likely to see.”
Late last month, state officials announced that in the days leading up to RCID’s transition to state control, attorneys working for Disney brokered last-minute contract agreements allowing the company to retain developmental power over the area, vowing to “void” any agreed-upon contracts.
The new state-controlled board notified the DeSantis administration that the outgoing Disney-controlled members signed a thirty-year agreement that allows Disney to retain major control of the authority over public lands, land-use agreements, and various operational responsibilities.
Following the discovery, the governor proposed privatizing the utility services of the district to “improve operational efficiency,” as well as emphasizing that the state will retain authority over the utilization of undeveloped land within the district, quipping it could potentially convert such land into a new state prison.
“At the Governor’s bidding, the State’s oversight board has purported to “void” publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs,” reads the lawsuit. “This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.”
In response to Disney’s filing, which took place moments after the DeSantis-appointed Board of Supervisors voted to nullify any developmental agreements, the Office of the Governor maintained that they were within their legal rights to enact a takeover of the special district.
“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,” said Communications Director for the Executive Office of the Governor Taryn Fenske in an emailed statement to The Capitolist. “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.”
This is a developing story.