Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the latest salvo in a long-running fight over the company’s self-governing powers in the area that encompasses Walt Disney World Resort.
“A targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights,” Disney said in a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
DeSantis has made efforts to strip Disney of its special privileges in the former Reedy Creek Improvement District after the company spoke out against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which last year banned education on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis is pushing to expand the prohibition to all grades.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately comment on Wednesday.
The lawsuit, seeking declaratory relief and an injunction, comes after Florida moved to invalidate changes that Disney attempted last month to preserve its ability to make land use decisions over the sprawling region that encompasses Disney’s central Florida parks.
DeSantis signed legislation in late February that allowed the state to take control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which operated as Disney’s de facto private government for the area containing its parks and resorts.
DeSantis hand-picked members for the district’s new board, filling it with cultural conservatives and political allies — only to learn that the outgoing Reedy Creek supervisors had preemptively undercut the state’s power with a development deal, giving the Burbank entertainment giant authority until at least 21 years past the death of the last surviving descendant of Britain’s King Charles III.
DeSantis and his allies quickly moved to invalidate those changes.
“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,” Disney’s suit said. “This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.”
“But the Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop,” Disney said in the lawsuit. “The Governor recently declared that his team would not only ‘void the development agreement’ — just as they did today — but also planned ‘to look at things like taxes on the hotels,’ ‘tolls on the roads,’ ‘developing some of the property that the district owns’ with ‘more amusement parks,’ and even putting a ‘state prison’ next to Walt Disney World.”
Disney said it regretted suing DeSantis and other state leaders.
“But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials,” the suit said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.