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Judge dismisses Disney lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

A federal judge has tossed the Walt Disney Company's lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, which claimed the restructuring of its self-governing powers was punishment over its public opposition to the state's "Parental Rights in Education Act" and violated the company's free speech. The judge said Wednesday that Disney failed to prove it was unfairly targeted. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A federal judge has tossed Disney's lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying the complaint lacked merit in its argument that the restructuring of a special tax district governing Walt Disney World was punishment over free speech.

In the 17-page order, Judge Allen Winsor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday against DeSantis and the secretary of Florida's Commerce Department. The judge wrote that, while the district restructuring "works to Disney's significant detriment," there was no proof or motivation that the company was unfairly targeted.

"It is true that the laws did not affect all districts, and it is true -- at least accepting Disney's allegations-- that Disney faces the brunt of the harm," Winsor wrote. "But Disney offers no support for its argument that the court is to undertake line drawing to determine just how many others a law must cover to avoid 'singling out' those they affect most."

Disney filed the lawsuit last spring after DeSantis signed a bill to remove Disney World's self-governing powers, giving control of the park's Reedy Creek Improvement District to the state and renaming it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The original law, passed in 1967, before Walt Disney built the parks, gave Disney the power to elect all of the district's board members and control land development.

A federal judge has dismissed Disney's lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the restructuring of a special tax district for Walt Disney World, which the company argued was punishment over its free speech and opposition of the state's so-called "don't say gay" law. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
A federal judge has dismissed Disney's lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the restructuring of a special tax district for Walt Disney World, which the company argued was punishment over its free speech and opposition of the state's so-called "don't say gay" law. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

DeSantis said the restructuring change and power shift of the park's Reedy Creek Improvement District was only meant to correct Disney's unfair advantage.

"As stated by Gov. 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," DeSantis' spokesman Jeremy Redfern wrote in a statement Wednesday.

"The federal court's decision made it clear that Gov. 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," Redfern added.

Disney argued in its lawsuit that it was being punished for its ongoing feud with DeSantis over what critics call the "don't say gay" law. Disney had publicly opposed Florida's "Parental Rights in Education Act," which restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade.

"No one reading the text of the challenged laws would suppose them directed against Disney," Winsor wrote. "Courts shouldn't look to a law's legislative history to find an illegitimate motivation for an otherwise constitutional statute."

"This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here," a Disney spokesperson told CNBC on Wednesday.

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," the Disney spokesperson said. "We are determined to press forward with our case."