- Gov. Ron DeSantis and Central Florida special district attempt to dismiss federal lawsuit filed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts over alleged constitutional rights violations.
- State attorneys argue that DeSantis and the acting secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity should be dismissed from the lawsuit, while attorneys for the special district seek to put the federal case on hold or have it dismissed.
- Disney’s lawsuit stems from a law passed by the Florida Legislature that invalidated development agreements between Disney and the former Reedy Creek Improvement District board, controlled by Disney for decades, and gave DeSantis authority to appoint members of the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis and a revamped Central Florida special district sought Monday to scuttle a federal lawsuit in which Walt Disney Parks and Resorts contends its constitutional rights have been violated amid a long-running feud with DeSantis.
Attorneys for the state filed a motion contending that DeSantis and Meredith Ivey, acting secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, should be dismissed from the lawsuit. Meanwhile, attorneys for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District argued the federal case should be put on hold until a separate case in Orange County circuit court is resolved — or, as an alternative, the federal case should be dismissed.
Disney filed the federal lawsuit in April, alleging constitutional violations related to a series of events that the entertainment giant says are rooted in retaliation by DeSantis and his political allies.
A key issue is a law passed this spring invalidating development-related agreements that Disney reached with the former Reedy Creek Improvement District board, which for decades had been controlled by Disney. The Legislature did away with the Reedy Creek board and gave DeSantis authority to appoint members of the successor Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board.
In the motion to dismiss Monday, lawyers for the state argued, in part, that Disney lacked legal standing to sue DeSantis and Ivey over the issues. DeSantis, Ivey and Central Florida Tourism Oversight District officials are the named defendants in the case.
“Although Disney has grabbed headlines by suing the governor, Disney — like many litigants before it who have challenged Florida’s laws — has no basis for doing so,” the motion said. “Neither the governor nor the secretary enforce any of the laws at issue, so Disney lacks standing to sue them.”
The motion also took aim at what it described as a “sweetheart deal” that Disney enjoyed with the Reedy Creek district, which the state created in the 1960s.
“Local taxes? Disney set them,” the motion said. “Building and safety codes? Disney set those, too. Caps on land development? Disney made the final call. Disney could exercise eminent domain, permitting it to annex territory even outside the District’s borders, all without legislative approval. It could build and operate an airport, or even a nuclear power plant.”
DeSantis and Disney began clashing last year after company officials opposed a new law that restricted instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
The Republican-controlled Legislature and DeSantis passed a measure that would have dissolved the Reedy Creek district. But early this year, they stopped short of dissolution and decided to replace the Reedy Creek board.
Shortly before the switch to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the outgoing Reedy Creek board and Disney reached development-related agreements. The new board sought to undo the agreements, and lawmakers later passed a measure (SB 1604) aimed at invalidating them.
In the federal lawsuit, Disney raises a series of arguments, including that the state violated the company’s rights under what is known as the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“As alleged in this complaint, the contracts were abrogated as part of an explicit campaign of official government retaliation against Disney for expressing a viewpoint the governor and Legislature disagreed with,” said an amended version of the lawsuit filed May 8.
The lawsuit added, “Neither CFTOD (the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District) nor the Legislature has identified any legitimate reason or need to treat the contracts differently from long-term development agreements entered into by developers in other special districts.”
But the new district board countered in May by filing a lawsuit in Orange County circuit court seeking a ruling that the agreements reached by Disney and the former Reedy Creek board are “null and void.”
In documents filed Monday, attorneys for the new district argued that U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor should put the federal case on hold until the issues are resolved in circuit court. A hearing in that case is scheduled July 14 in Orlando.