Federal judge dismisses Disney lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis

Disney had sued in connection to the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

January 31, 2024, 5:01 PM

A federal judge in Florida has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Disney against Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials over the state legislature's decision to alter the governing structure of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Disney had argued in the lawsuit, filed last April, that the change to the district, for which the company was the main landowner, was made in retaliation for criticism of the Parental Rights in Education Act, known by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

The Florida Legislature voted to dissolve the former governing board of the district and create a DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in its place. The board voided a contract made before the CFTOD was in place, according to the lawsuit.

Ron DeSantis speaks during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 8, 2022.
Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

DeSantis has been at odds with Disney since it publicly criticized a DeSantis-backed controversial Florida law that restricts content concerning sexual orientation and gender identity in grades kindergarten through third grade.

Disney, citing concerns of discrimination, had said it "should never have passed and should never have been signed into law."

DeSantis' press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, applauded the decision in a statement Wednesday.

"As stated by Governor DeSantis when he signed HB 9-B, the Corporate Kingdom is over," Redfern said. "The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone. The federal court's decision made it clear that Governor DeSantis was correct: Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government. In short — as long predicted, case dismissed."

DeSantis and J. Alex Kelly, the secretary of Florida's Department of Commerce, had argued a lack of standing and 11th Amendment immunity in the case, both of which Winsor agreed on, while the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District argued a lack of merit in the case.

"The clerk will enter a judgment that says, 'This case was resolved on motions to dismiss. Plaintiff's claims against the Governor and the Department Secretary are dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff's claims against the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board members are dismissed on the merits for failure to state a claim," U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump in 2018, wrote in concluding his decision.

Winsor wrote that Disney had not shown standing to sue the governor or secretary.

"The analysis could be different if the Governor had not yet made any appointments," Winsor wrote. "But as things stand, if this court enjoined future appointments, Disney would face the same situation it faces now: it would be operating under the CFTOD board, over which it has no control. Stopping hypothetical future appointments would not redress any alleged imminent harm."

People gather at the Magic Kingdom theme park before the "Festival of Fantasy" parade at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., July 30, 2022.
Octavio Jones/Reuters, FILE

The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be brought again with proper standing.

"This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here," a Disney spokesperson said. "If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case."

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

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