·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Verdicts & Settlements

Florida, Walt Disney Company Reach Agreement in Long-Running Legal Feud

— March 29, 2024

The Walt Disney Company will drop its claims against the state, which center on unprecedented changes to the areas around Walt Disney World resort, in exchange for more productive negotiations.

The Walt Disney Company and a regulatory board appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have reportedly reached a settlement after being locked in litigation for nearly a year.

According to National Public Radio, the original lawsuit—which was amended several times after its filing—centered on the management of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, a 40-square-mile property that encompasses the entirety of Walt Disney World.

For decades, Disney was afforded unusual authority within the district, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. In exchange for maintaining infrastructure within Reedy Creek, Disney was delegated authorities comparable to those of a county government—including the right to operate its own police department and firefighting service.

However, after Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature passed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education Act,” Disney publicly announced its opposition to the bill—a bill that broadly prohibited educators from speaking about topics like sexuality and gender identity in classrooms, and which was derisively nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” Act by its critics.

Gov. DeSantis and his state-congressional allies responded quickly, enacting a new law that abolished the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Reedy Creek was then replaced with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which was to be run by DeSantis-appointed officials.

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

Earlier this week, though, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District announced that it is now willing to cooperate with Disney to update its comprehensive management plan.

DeSantis, for his part, has emphasized that any tentative settlement in no way indicates that the Disney’s legal claims had merit.

“The reality is that here we are, a year later, and not one of [Disney’s lawsuits] has succeeded,” Gov. DeSantis said. “Every action we have taken has been upheld in full. And the state’s better off for it.”

Nonetheless, the Walt Disney Company has publicly cast the settlement as a major step forward.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economy opportunity in the State,” Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle said in a statement.

Under the terms of the settlement, Disney will cease litigating claims seeking legal recognition of a deal it reached with outgoing members of the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s board, provisions of which would have effectively prevented the newly-formed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District from dictating the resort’s affairs.

Disney and the state will, instead, negotiate changes to a comprehensive management plan drafted and passed by the new board in 2020.


Disney sues Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, claiming ‘government retaliation’

In Florida, there’s détente in the battle between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis

Settlement reached in lawsuit between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ allies

Settlement reached in lawsuit between Gov. DeSantis allies and Disney

Join the conversation!