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Federal Judge: Florida Taxpayers Can’t File Lawsuit Defending Disney

— May 13, 2022

Disney is currently locked in conflict with Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who is seeking to punish the company for its opposition to the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Florida taxpayers hoping to block the state’s dissolution of Disney’s special, self-governing tax district.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Miami.

In their complaint, the taxpayers said that Florida’s move to eliminate Disney’s Reedy Creek district violates provisions of the state constitution as well as its legal contractual obligations.

If Gov. Ron DeSantis successfully removes Reedy Creek’s protections, the taxpayers say that they will be forced to assume Disney’s $1 billion debt burden.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the lawsuit is part of a wide-ranging battle between Disney and Florida, following Gov. DeSantis’s signing of the Parental Rights in Education Act. This law, sometimes referred to as “Don’t Say Gay,” prohibits public educators from teaching younger students about different sexual orientations and gender identities.

Disney has, since the late 1960s, been permitted to operate what is essentially an independent municipal government within the Sunshine State.

As has reported before, this area is known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

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

Just like other governments, Disney is permitted to fund and operate and its own infrastructure and utilities. And, just like other governments, Disney is permitted to accrue outside funding and debt for its operations.

However, state lawmakers have sought to revoke Disney’s special status ever since the company announced its opposition o the Parental Rights in Education Act.

Disney, along with many activists, sees the “Don’t Say Gay” education as a fundamental attack on LGBT Americans.

But on Tuesday, Chief District Court Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga said that the taxpayers’ complaint falls outside the court’s jurisdiction, and that Florida residents have no standing to sue on behalf of Disney.

In her five-page order, Altonaga said that state officials cannot be sued in federal court over alleged violations of state law.

Altonaga further found that taxpayers cannot sue to defend purported infringements of Disney’s First Amendment rights.

While Florida residents are permitted to ask the federal court to oversee and weigh in on violations of the residents’ constitutional rights, taxpayers may not file a challenge on Disney’s behalf.

“Plaintiffs’ theory of standing is that the elimination of the Reedy Creek Improvement District might result in financial harm to Plaintiffs by virtue of a tax increase that has not yet been enacted,” Altonaga wrote in her ruling. “That indirect and highly speculative alleged injury cannot support federal jurisdiction. [The bill] itself will not raise Plaintiffs’ taxes. Again — it is worth emphasizing — the bill does not apply to Plaintiffs at all.”

Gov. DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, applauded the court’s decision and reiterated the governor’s stance that any revocation or change in status for Reedy Creek would not adversely affect taxpayers in the surrounding area.

“Perhaps this will put to rest the speculation from those who are hoping—with no basis in reality—that this will end in some sort of taxpayer or state burden that partisan critics can use against the governor,” Pushaw said in an email. “In reality, this opportunity can, and should be utilized to generate more taxes from Disney, as the governor has said.”

The Los Angeles Times notes that, barring any further changes, Disney’s Reedy Creek District will be eliminated on June 1, 2023.

However, it is still possible that Disney may negotiate with Florida to preserve its special status.


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