Florida judge tosses out Disney’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis

A district court judge in Florida on Wednesday dismissed Disney’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis over the loss of a long-standing planning district, ruling that Disney lacked standing to bring the suit.

Judge Allen Winsor of the Northern District Court of Florida said Disney’s claims of injury resulting from the appointment of board members to a new district created by Florida lawmakers was ‘in the past.’

Disney also failed to show damages from specific actions the new board has taken or will take because of the governor’s alleged control of it, the judge wrote.

‘In fact, Disney has not alleged any specific injury from any board action,’ Winsor said.

Winsor was nominated by then-President Donald Trump in 2018 and was sworn in in 2019.

A Disney spokesperson released a statement following the ruling:

“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here. 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.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis released the following statement:

‘As stated by Governor DeSantis when he signed HB 9-B, the Corporate Kingdom is over. 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.’

The origins of the suit lie in the battle over the passage of a bill, signed into law by DeSantis in the summer of 2022, that limited discussion of gender and sexuality in schools. Dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by opponents, the bill restricted teaching those subjects to fourth grade and above.

Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.Joe Burbank / Tribune News Service via Getty Images file

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek came out against the bill following vocal opposition on social media from Disney employees.

In response, Florida state lawmakers began taking steps to dismantle what was then known as Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, the planning area it had maintained de facto control over since the late-1960s. That control allowed the company to make building and infrastructure changes in and around Walt Disney World.

In Feb. 2023, the legislature effectively stripped away Disney’s control over Reedy Creek, renaming it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and appointing five officials backed by DeSantis to serve on a newly created board.

Disney subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming DeSantis and the legislature had dissolved Reedy Creek in retaliation for and in violation of the company’s First Amendment rights. A separate lawsuit filed by Disney alleged the new Oversight District was failing to properly preserve records.

In December, the Associated Press reported that about 50 out of some 370 employees had left the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since it its takeover, ‘raising concerns that decades of institutional knowledge are departing with them, along with a reputation for a well-run government.’

CORRECTION (Jan. 31, 2024, 5:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated what grades are covered by the law limiting discussion of gender and sexuality in schools. It restricts teaching those subjects to fourth grade and above, not third grade.

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