Disney fights to dismiss state-run board’s lawsuit in court hearing

Orlando, FL, USA - November 5 2022 : Magic Kingdom Park firework
A circuit judge heard arguments Friday about whether or not to dismiss a lawsuit against Disney.

An Orange Circuit Court Judge will decide the fate of a lawsuit involving the feud between Disney and its state-run governing board following a court hearing where Disney asked the complaint to be tossed.

Judge Margaret Schreiber did not make a decision immediately after the 70-minute hearing.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, formerly known as Reedy Creek, sued Disney in May and accused the Mouse of “a series of eleventh hour deals” meant to steal power from the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed board before the new members took control of it this year.

“Disney hoped to tie the hands of the new, independent Board and to preserve Disney’s special status as its own government in the District for at least the next thirty years. These agreements reek of a backroom deal,” the tourism board said in a May 9 court filing.

But Disney argued that the tourism board’s lawsuit should be dismissed because DeSantis already signed SB 1604, which makes Disney’s agreements void. A Disney attorney called the tourism board’s lawsuit “moot” during Friday’s hearing.

“There’s nothing that this Court can do with this case that would have any practical effect whatsoever, since the Legislature has already provided (the tourism board) with the precise relief that they seek in this case,” Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli said.

“Whether the agreements were to be found to be valid or invalid, or void or not void, or enforceable or not enforceable, the fact remains 1604 bars their enforcement. And really, that’s the beginning and the end of the matter.”

Disney is also pursuing its own lawsuit in federal court against DeSantis and the tourism board.

“We have filed a lawsuit to protect our First Amendment rights there and to protect our business frankly,” said Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger, whose contract was extended through 2026 this week, during a recent interview with CNBC.

If Schreiber doesn’t dismiss the tourism board’s lawsuit, Disney asked the judge to put the state court case on hold until the federal lawsuit is decided.

Michael Nardella, the tourism board’s attorney, argued their lawsuit should be allowed to continue on since he said it was a separate matter from Disney’s federal lawsuit. He also accused Disney of improperly serving the tourism board for the lawsuit.

The feud between Republican state leaders and Disney began after the entertainment giant criticized Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education measure, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

After that, Republicans passed a series of laws which Disney said was punishment for the company for exercising its constitutional freedom of speech.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills removing Disney’s special district board members and replacing them with state-picked appointees as well as requiring Disney World’s Monorail be inspected by the state for the first time and SB 1604.

DeSantis made his war against “woke” Disney a key part on the campaign trail as he runs for President.

“This is really a cadre of ‘woke’ executives in Burbank trying to impose this agenda down on the rest of the company. I think it’s been catastrophic,” DeSantis said this week.

Iger was asked about DeSantis during his CNBC interview.

“The last thing that I want for the company is for the company to be drawn into any culture wars,” Iger said this week. “Our goal is to continue to tell wonderful stories and have a positive, positive impact on the world.”

Meanwhile the tourism board members have said since taking over Disney’s special district, they are cleaning it up by making it more transparent and adding more oversight that was missing when Disney held control of the district.

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 .

One comment

  • gold miner

    July 17, 2023 at 3:51 am

    During a court hearing, Disney requested the dismissal of the complaint, argued that the lawsuit should be rendered moot due to the signing of SB 1604 by Governor Ron DeSantis. According to Disney’s attorney, this new legislation would make Disney’s agreements void.

    However, the judge, Margaret Schreiber, did not immediately make a decision following the hearing. The judge will likely review the arguments presented by both parties before reaching a decision on the fate of the lawsuit. It is important to note that the outcome of the case will depend on the judge’s ruling and further developments in the legal process. For the latest updates on this specific case, I recommend checking reliable news sources or legal publications.

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