Disney fires back with lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis, state-run Disney World board
Image via AP.

'Disney regrets that it has come to this,' the company said in a new federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and others.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis of targeting the company for speaking out, and the company is firing back in a lawsuit against DeSantis and his appointees on Disney World’s governing board.

Wednesday’s lawsuit comes on the same day the Disney World board voted to overturn a development agreement made between Disney and the outgoing board before the state took over.

“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. … In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind,” Disney attorneys said in a 77-page federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court’s Northern Florida District.

“Today’s action is the latest strike.”

The more than yearlong saga between state Republicans and Disney began when the company objected to the state’s Parental Rights in Education measure, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“Disney regrets that it has come to this. But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials,” Disney said in the lawsuit.

DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske responded in a statement. “We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state. This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a new law this year that allowed DeSantis to remove Disney World’s governing board and replace them with his own appointees. Later, the new state-run board accused Disney of surprising them with agreements that stripped them of control of future land-use decisions, leading into Wednesday’s board meeting.

The new tourism oversight board called the Disney agreements “entirely one-sided,” giving Disney control of the height of buildings built in the district and the power to design future infrastructure projects as it grows, according to a legislative findings report approved at Wednesday’s meeting. The special district “gets nothing in return.”

“Disney picked the fight with this board,” said Martin Garcia, who chairs the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board, at Wednesday’s meeting. “Bottom line: What our lawyers have told us is, factually and legally, what they created is an absolute legal mess.”

The new board said the agreements are invalid because Disney did not properly mail other property owners in the special district a notice of the resolution to approve the development agreements, nor did the district get input from cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.

The new board also voted Wednesday on a resolution to assert its “superior authority” over the district for comprehensive planning, zoning regulations and environmental protection rules.

Meanwhile, Disney argued in the lawsuit that “the development contracts laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.”

Disney disputed the new board’s version of events that the development agreements were a surprise, and pointed out journalists from multiple Central Florida outlets attended the Jan. 25 and Feb. 8 meetings when the issue was on the agenda.

Between the two meetings, the time it took to discuss the agreements was seven minutes, according to the new board’s legislative findings.

“The Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop,” the lawsuit said, bringing up the Governor’s threats to add toll roads, hotel taxes or even his quip about building a state prison on the special district’s land.

In the lawsuit, Disney asks for unspecified damages, attorney’s fees as well as the courts to overturn SB 4C which dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District and HB 9B that gave DeSantis the power to appoint Disney World’s board members. Previously, Disney handpicked its own members.

Many weighed in on the ongoing, very public battle between DeSantis and Disney.

At Wednesday’s meeting, several Disney Springs restaurant and retail owners whose businesses survived the pandemic and have dealt with labor shortages and rising costs spoke out over concerns about being caught up in the fight. The new board has threatened to raise taxes at the special district as it braces for a costly legal battle against Disney.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando who is an outspoken critic of DeSantis, also released a statement.

“It really does take a terrible Governor for someone like me to express support for a corporation but it’s been such a circus to watch DeSantis continue to target and demonize the Walt Disney World Company because they expressed an opinion he did not like and stopped giving him campaign contributions,” Eskamani said.

“This has clearly been a pattern of punitive and petty behavior by Gov. DeSantis that has exposed his inability to lead alongside his extreme policy positions. I wish Disney luck in their litigation and ask that the Governor let it go.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


  • Mickey Mouse, your daddy

    April 26, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    The WORST attorney in AmeriKKKa, cuckolded at every turn.


  • Rich Publix Employee Ed👍

    April 26, 2023 at 12:44 pm

    DeSantis should be all over these companies to pay better wages and things that will actually benefit the most amount of people… not fighting over some disagreement in viewpoint. Then turn around and argue for viewpoint diversity on campuses? What’s up with that?

    • Dont Say FLA

      April 26, 2023 at 1:07 pm

      So-called “viewpoint diversity on campuses” means that whyte supremacists have to be allowed to hold their rallies at public schools. Meanwhile Ron Duh & Friends talk about indoctrination by the left and dangers posed by drag queens of all people.

  • Dont Say FLA

    April 26, 2023 at 1:11 pm

    Fleur D’uh might want to tighten rather than loosen Resign to Run so Ron Duh Santies can be forced to resign before taxpayers have to foot the bill for Ron’s Disney damages that will make Fox News three quarters of a billion dollar payout to Dominion Voting look like chump change. Any why is Ron Duh going after Disney? Because he’s a butt hurt, thin skinned manchild. That’s why. It’s nothing more than that. If parents have any concerns over Disney, they can quite simple not buy the very pricey Disney tickets for their children. GOP used to call that “Let the market sort it out,” but today’s GOP has very sadly changed to a new mantra, “Let the kkk sort it out”

  • DeSantis is a failed leader

    April 26, 2023 at 1:20 pm

    Disney is about to school DeSantis and his crony attorneys and legislators . Before it’s all said, and done, Florida may end up being a blue state after all, and Florida finally lived happily ever after.

    Right now, Florida is under the control of a dictator or a villain who is extremely dangerous, and is hell-bent on destroying the Florida. And people come from all over the world to visit

    The positive economic impact that Disney has on Florida is $75 billion. And Disney collects billions of dollars for the state and then the hundreds of thousands of employees that are directly and indirectly a result of the Disney business

    • Dont Say FLA

      April 26, 2023 at 1:23 pm

      Rhonda is only halfway to being a failed leader. He’s got the fail part down pat, but has yet to lead.

  • Lynda

    April 26, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    Businesses everywhere in the USA should be wary of contributing to anti-business Ron deSantis. The overreach of state government under deSantis’ rule has reached a system of threats to businesses which employ thousands of Florida residents, project an actual symbol of Florida’s welcome to tourists from around the globe, and contribute to the revenue stream supporting the very government which seeks to damage any business which uses the freedom of speech constitutionally offered in the USA to everyone– business executive or unemployed politician– to speak bluntly in opposition to a government policy, law or policy.

    At first I was amused that Ron deSantis would take on Mickey Mouse; surely Ron’s temper tantrum would exhaust itself before committing the state of Florida’s whole focus to damaging Disney operations and image. Those of us who still thought deSantis had something other than a personal vendetta against Disney, some redeeming goals, were wrong. The Governor shames Florida and all who vote for or contribute to deSantis by his childish abuse of state power.

    It is time for Ron-baby to man up and be an adult governor who recognizes Disney will be in Florida long after he will be only a bad memory to the American business community. Whatever Yale and Harvard taught Ron may not have been ethics, but was undoubtedly an unearned sense of self-esteem and arrogance in dealing with perceived “enemies”.

  • PeterH

    April 26, 2023 at 1:50 pm

    Why would any American business send money to THE RON DESANTIS CAMPAIGN FOR PRESIDENT?

    Imagine this legal cost to taxpayers for this recent DeSantis misfire?

    How embarrassing for the residents of Florida when the DeSantis- Florida legislature dirty emails are part of Disney’s discovery.

    • Ron DeSantis is a Moron, and so are you if you actually support him.

      April 26, 2023 at 1:56 pm

      Corporate America has been watching, and that’s why big money donors have stopped supporting him already.

      He tried to go to war with the cruise industry here too, opposing vaccination requirements and masks on their ships. Dum-Dum DeSantis couldn’t get it through his thick caveman skull that hose are internationally flagged vessels, and he doesn’t get to tell them how to run their fleet.

      He’s a Big Government authoritarian and these fools lining up to support don’t seem to understand that. But that’s why he’s attacking education here in Florida. Intelligent people don’t fall for this kind of stuff.

  • Ron DeSantis wears High Heels

    April 26, 2023 at 1:51 pm

    Rhonda should have just take the L and moved, but he F’ed around, and now he’s about to find out.

  • JD

    April 26, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    I think someone should take a gander at the Governor recall laws or a no confidence vote.

    It’s getting thick and corrupt with MoRon DeSantis.

  • tom palmer

    April 26, 2023 at 3:50 pm

    How much will Florida taxpayers have to pay in legal bills for this foolishness and what else will go unfunded as a result?

  • TD

    April 26, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    Absolute tards on this board concern trolling about legal fees and damages but say nothing about being cucked by the mouse and its special district for decades upon decades of theft. An entire order of magnitude of $$$$ difference but they lube up lie down and take it because the Chamber of Commerce tells them to, cuz “that’s what being a conservative Republican means!” as they slowly step into the grave along with their looted country.

    Absolute losers. People who have never and will never successfully resist any power.

    • AntiFla

      April 27, 2023 at 8:46 pm

      Absolute losers who want to flap their idiot lips about Disney’s “sweetheart” deal without saying one word about the massive taxpayer ripoff the Villages pulls in their own special improvement district. The Villages deal makes Disney look like Robinhood, and DeSantis has been helping them throughout his administration, smoothing the way for them to rip people off and jail politicians they find inconvenient. All the dumbasses can see is DeSantis “giving it to Disney” while they take it in the stinker by The Villages. F*&king clueless.

Comments are closed.


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