Disney filed a lawsuit Wednesday, taking its long-lasting feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to court.
In the 77-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Disney accused the DeSantis administration of launching a “targeted campaign of government retaliation,” which, they said, not only goes against protected speech but threatens the company’s business operations and its economic future.
“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 legal complaint says, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“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,” the lawsuit states.
Earlier in the day, a DeSantis-appointed board, which oversees municipal services where Disney is located, voted to reverse an agreement that would have allowed Disney to keep control over the 24,000 acre property in central Florida for 30 years and prevented the board from making big decisions without Disney’s approval.
In February, DeSantis had stripped the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special tax district that Disney had operated as a self-governing system for over 50 years, of power by replacing the board members with his own picks and renaming it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
But days before this change, Disney-appointed board members negotiated a contract with the company to render the new board powerless, as Deseret News reported.
DeSantis ramped up his attacks on Disney in a press conference last week, accusing the media giant of making “special deals” with a board they controlled.
“It’s basically a legal fiction that they negotiated it with themselves to give themselves the ability to maintain their self-governing status,” he said.
He also proposed a number of ways to take action against Disney, one of them being developments near the theme parks.
“Maybe create a state park. Maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison. Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless,” he said.
The suit alleges that the board's latest actions were “patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.”
Meanwhile, DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said that the administration is not aware “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,” per CNN.
“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,” Fenske added.
This latest development comes a year after Disney, which employs roughly 70,000 Floridians and attracts tens of millions of visitors, criticized the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prohibits the teaching of gender and sexual identity to children in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis, who is speculated to run for president in 2024, has touted the legislation as an accomplishment.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, who was hired by the new board, said that former board members did not have the legal authority to approve the agreement in question.
“Everyone must play by the same rules,” Lawson told Politico. “Disney was openly and legally granted unique and special privilege, that privilege of running its own local government for a time. That era has ended.”
Lawsuit aside, Disney and six Florida theme parks continue functioning as usual, with the average guest mostly unaffected by this feud, as Matt Roseboom, the editor and publisher of a Disney-centered magazine, told The Washington Post.
Disney’s top chief, Robert Iger, has previously labeled DeSantis as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida,” and says he has put the possibility of future investments in the sunshine state at risk. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is campaigning for president in 2024, took the opportunity to invite Disney, and their thousands of jobs, to her state.
“We’ve got great weather, great people, and it’s always a great day in South Carolina!” she said on Twitter, adding, “SC’s not woke, but we’re not sanctimonious about it either.”
Hey @Disney, my home state will happily accept your 70,000+ jobs if you want to leave Florida.— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) April 26, 2023
We’ve got great weather, great people, and it’s always a great day in South Carolina!
SC’s not woke, but we’re not sanctimonious about it either. pic.twitter.com/uf1PWQjGc5