·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Political Litigation

DeSantis Attorneys Ask Federal Court to Toss Walt Disney Company’s Free Speech Lawsuit

— December 13, 2023

In a petition to dismiss the high-profile complaint, attorneys for DeSantis said that Disney lacked standing to pursue a claim seeking revocation of a law that neither the governor nor his associates have power to enforce.

Attorneys for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have asked a federal court to dismiss a free speech lawsuit filed by Disney, which claims that the Sunshine State retaliated against Walt Disney World after it announced its public opposition to a controversial law limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to CBS News, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor is currently considering motions by the DeSantis administration and Central Florida Tourism Oversight District to dismiss the lawsuit.

Disney, notes CBS News, filed its complaint after Gov. DeSantis took steps to overhaul and essentially revoke the company’s management of a special tax district that let Disney effectively self-govern its Florida theme parks and adjoining lands.

“A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights,” Disney wrote in its September complaint.

Former Congressman Ron DeSantis in 2017. Image via Flickr/user:Gage Skidmore (CCA-BY-2.0).

The lawsuit, which has been amended several times, is now reduced to a single count—that Florida’s seizure of Disney’s special tax district was retaliatory, and that such retaliation was a violation of the Walt Disney Company’s rights to free speech.

“If the line is not drawn here, there is no line at all,” Disney said in October, shortly after it last amended its lawsuit. “The retaliation against Disney for crossing the Governor’s ‘line’ was swift and severe: for the explicitly-stated purpose of punishing Disney for its comments, the State immediately stripped Disney of its voting rights in the governing body that oversees Disney’s use of its own private property.”

But the DeSantis administration now claims that Disney never had the requisite legal standing to file a complaint.

Earlier this week, for instance, attorneys for DeSantis said that neither the governor nor the secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity—another defendant named in the claim—have the power to enforce the laws reforming Disney’s tax district.

They have also said that the laws used to overhaul the special district are not exclusive to Disney—though Disney is the only company which could conceivably be affected by the legislation.

“These laws are, on their face and in substance, ordinary, standard, regulatory provisions that regulate—what?” asked attorney Charles Cooper, who is representing the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board. “They regulate special districts. They don’t even directly regulate Disney.”

“That dooms their free speech claim,” Cooper said.

Disney, meanwhile, said that DeSantis was “front and center” in planning retaliation against the company.

“This as clear a case of retaliation against protected speech as the court will ever see,” said Disney attorney Jonathon Hacker.


Attorneys: It doesn’t matter if Florida punished Disney for opposing ‘Don’t Say Gay’

DeSantis attorneys ask federal judge to dismiss Disney’s free speech lawsuit

Disney drops part of its lawsuit against DeSantis to focus on free speech claims

Disney warns that if DeSantis wins lawsuit, others will be punished for ‘disfavored’ views

Federal judge weighs DeSantis-Disney fight

Judge considers whether to throw out Disney lawsuit against DeSantis

Join the conversation!