Federal judge dimisses Disney lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis

by | Jan 31, 2024

A federal judge dismissed Disney’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, ruling that the company lacked standing to challenge the state’s restructuring of Reedy Creek Improvement District and rejecting claims the changes were retaliatory for Disney’s opposition to a state education law.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts against Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials. The suit challenged the restructuring of a special district that includes Walt Disney World, alleging that the changes were a retaliatory response to Disney’s criticism of a state education law.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Wednesday ruled that Disney lacked sufficient standing to sue the governor and the secretary of Florida’s Department of Commerce, opining that the corporation failed to demonstrate a direct injury that could be resolved by the court.

Moreover, Winsor applied the legal principle that challenges to constitutional statutes based on the supposed motives of lawmakers is not permissible, as established in previous cases like Hubbard.

“Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor or the Secretary, and its claims against the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) Defendants fail on the merits,” wrote Winsor. “Disney struggled to articulate any injury attributable to the Secretary … At best, it contends that the Secretary’s duties include “maintain[ing] the Official List of Special Districts. But that list—or the Secretary’s authority in keeping it—does nothing to affect the CFTOD Defendant’s authority.”

Winsor further noted that the legislative changes affected not just Disney but other landowners within the district, making it challenging to argue that the laws were specifically targeting Disney. Consequently, Disney’s claim, which relied on the supposed retaliatory nature of the legislative actions, was dismissed

“I’m delighted that this lawsuit, which was nothing more than a distraction, is now behind us,” said CFTOD Chairman Martin Garcia. “Our board and the district will now continue to make the appropriate changes to operate and function as an independent government agency to promote transparency and accountability while bringing more prosperity to more people in Florida.”

Last year, DeSantis signed legislation 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.

While DeSantis condemned Disney as a “woke” corporation after it publicly opposed a law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, state legislators worked to revamp Reedy Creek, responsible for overseeing government services at Disney World.

Lawmakers ratified legislation to replace the five Disney-elected members with governor-appointed ones, disrupting a system that allowed Disney to govern its Florida theme parks and resorts autonomously for more than 50 years.

Florida officials, and particularly the governor, have repeatedly stated that the changes “level the playing field” so that Disney is now “subject to the same laws and regulations as all other companies in Florida.”

Reedy Creek was created by the Florida state legislature in 1967 to provide local government services for the Walt Disney World resort. Up to this year, the district maintained its own government, with powers similar to those of a county government, and was responsible for providing services such as fire protection, building inspection, and waste management within its jurisdiction.


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