A federal judge in Florida has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his political allies, marking a significant development in the ongoing legal and political clash between the entertainment giant and the state's governor.
The lawsuit, initiated by Disney in April 2023, accused Governor DeSantis of leveraging his political power to punish the company for exercising its right to free speech. The judge's ruling, issued on January 31, 2024, deemed that Disney lacked standing to sue DeSantis and found the company's claims against the governor's oversight board to lack merit.
The federal judge specifically noted that Disney had not provided any specific actions taken by the new oversight board as a result of the alleged control by Governor DeSantis. In response to the dismissal, a Disney spokesperson stated that the company remains undeterred and intends to press forward with its case.
The lawsuit stemmed from DeSantis and the Florida legislature taking steps to revoke Disney's autonomous control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), previously a self-governing entity akin to a county government and overseen by Disney. In 2023, Florida implemented legislation to overhaul the district, rebranding it as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). The restructured board, featuring newly appointed members, subsequently nullified contracts that had been sanctioned by the board under Disney's control prior to the reformation.
Disney accused DeSantis and the oversight board of retaliating against the company for its vehement condemnation of Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, implemented in 2022. This legislation prohibited public schools from engaging in "classroom discussion" or providing "classroom instruction" on matters related to sexual orientation or gender identity within kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
In response to the dismissal, DeSantis' press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, asserted that the days of Disney controlling its own government are over, emphasizing that the federal court's decision affirms that Disney is subject to the same laws as any other corporation in the state. The ongoing conflict reflects the complexity and intensity of the intersection between corporate interests and government authority.