The ongoing dispute between The Walt Disney Company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reached a new level on Thursday, as Disney filed a countersuit against the board appointed by DeSantis to oversee Disney property in Florida. The company alleged breach of contract and requested that the court declare them the winner in this part of the feud.
This development comes as the board itself sought a victory in its state lawsuit, in which they sued Disney over an agreement made with the previous board. This agreement significantly reduced the district’s authority over Disney’s property and future development, just before the new board was put in place.
To address this situation, the Florida Legislature passed SB 1604, a law granting the board the power to nullify the agreement. However, the board sought further affirmation from the courts regarding their right to do so.
The region of Orange and Osceola counties, where Walt Disney World is located, has been overseen by the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) since the 1960s. This special district handles taxation, infrastructure, permits, and development on Disney’s property.
However, after Disney’s former CEO Bob Chapek criticized the Legislature for passing the controversial Parental Rights in Education law, known as “Don’t Say Gay,” DeSantis and the Legislature decided to dissolve and reestablish the RCID as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). The new board, appointed by DeSantis instead of being elected, was seen by Disney as a retaliatory move.
Despite the change in board composition and the district’s new name, Disney’s attorneys argue that the district remains the same as the one established by the Legislature in the 1960s. Therefore, they insist that the new board must honor all legal obligations and contracts entered into with Disney.
In addition to breach of contract, Disney claims that the board’s nullification of the agreement violates the free speech, due process, and takings clauses of the Florida Constitution. Consequently, Disney is seeking damages against the board and wants the court to declare SB 1604 unconstitutional and prevent the district from enforcing the law.
Interestingly, Disney has also filed a separate lawsuit in federal court against DeSantis and the CFTOD board, citing similar violations. Meanwhile, the CFTOD board is pressing for a summary judgment, bypassing normal court proceedings and aiming to obtain a final ruling in their favor.
Governor DeSantis recently suggested that Florida has “moved on” from the feud with Disney and publicly called on the company to drop their lawsuit, expressing confidence in their chances of winning. However, Disney’s decision to file a countersuit signals their determination to fight for their rights.
As these legal battles continue, the outcome will have significant implications for the governance and future development of Disney’s properties in Florida.