·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Political Litigation

Federal Court Dismisses Disney’s Lawsuit Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

— January 31, 2024

In its ruling, a Florida federal court found that Florida had failed to establish how state law and practices intend specific harm to Disney’s interests.

A federal court has dismissed Disney’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his political allies, including a board appointed to oversee the company’s special tax district in Orange and Osceola counties.

According to CNN, the dismissal represents a significant victory in DeSantis’s ongoing feud with Disney. The lawsuit, filed in April of 2023, accused DeSantis of leveraging his political power to punish the Walt Disney Company, which publicly opposed legislation restricting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In its complaint, Disney said that the state’s decision to exert increased control over the former Reedy Creek Improvement District—a nearly-40-square-mile territory in which the Walt Disney Company was accorded powers equivalent to county-level government—was a politically-motivated act of retaliation.

Disney has since struggled to retain its influence over Reedy Creek, which has been reorganized as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and is now comprised of a board appointed by the governor.

However, on Wednesday, a district court found that Disney had not sufficiently “alleged any specific actions the new board took (or will take} because of the Governor’s alleged control.”

“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,” U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor wrote in his ruling. “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.”

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

“There is no ‘close enough’ exception,” Winsor added, addressing Disney’s claim that the law—which addresses concerns about Reedy Creek’s tax implications, avoiding any and all use of the word “Disney”—was clearly intended to harm the company’s interests.

“A law either explicitly singles out a specific group or it does not, and the laws here do not,” Winsor wrote.

A spokesperson said that Disney will not be deterred by the ruling and intends to “press forward” with its claim against the DeSantis administration.

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

While Disney will almost certainly appeal the ruling, a spokesperson for DeSantis’s office said that the dismissal should come as little surprise.

“As stated by Governor DeSantis when he signed H.B. 9-B, the Corporate Kingdom is over,” said Jeremy Redfern, the governor’s press secretary.

“The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone,” he said. “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,” Redfern said, “[and,] as long predicted, case dismissed.”


Florida judge tosses out Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis

Judge dismisses Disney lawsuit against DeSantis

Judge dismisses Disney’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies

Join the conversation!