The Walt Disney Co. has narrowed a lawsuit against Ron DeSantis that will likely decide the fate of its authority to control development around its sprawling theme park, opting to focus solely on First Amendment claims.
In a complaint filed on Thursday, Disney amended its suit to drop Contracts Clause, Takings Clause and Due Process Clause violations. It will focus on allegations in the federal court case that the Florida governor retaliated against the company in violation of its free speech rights for opposing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.
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Disney sued DeSantis in April in Florida federal court claiming his hand-picked oversight board illegally voided an agreement that allegedly transferred certain powers of the company’s now-dissolved special district back to Disney.
The development contracts in question were quietly signed by the previous oversight board on Feb. 8, the day before the state legislature passed a bill at DeSantis’ direction reshaping the leadership structure of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). Under the new bill, the governor was granted the authority to appoint every member of the special tax district’s five-member governing body. The move was intended to retaliate against the company, with the aim of discouraging the company from speaking out on social issues.
After DeSantis moved to dismiss the suit in June, Disney responded by asking to drop its non-First Amendment claims because “the validity of Disney’s contract-based claims is being actively litigated in the pending state court action.” The company explained, “In order to spare the inefficiency of litigating contract validity simultaneously in two forums, Disney’s Second Amended Complaint eliminates the four contract-based counts from this action. The remaining claim—challenging the law reconstituting RCID with the Governor’s hand-picked [Central Florida Tourism Oversight District] Board of Supervisors as a retaliatory weaponization of government in violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights—can be fully adjudicated here no matter how the state court rules on Disney’s contract claims.”
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Sept. 1 denied the company’s request, saying it could only do so “after conferring with Defendants and otherwise complying with the Local Rules.” The filing of the amended complaint on Thursday indicates that DeSantis allowed Disney to drop its contract claims without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled, before the judge ruled on the motion to dismiss.
Disney is pursuing the contract-based claims in a case initiated by CFTOD in state court. They were filed in response to the suit accusing the company of illegally stripping the board of its authority.
In a statement, Disney said, “We will continue to fight vigorously to defend these contracts, because these agreements will determine whether or not Disney can invest billions of dollars and generate thousands of new jobs in Florida.”
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