Disney Seeks to Limit Lawsuit Against DeSantis to Free Speech Allegation

Disney Seeks to Narrow Federal Lawsuit Against Gov. Ron DeSantis

In a recent development, Disney has expressed its intention to limit the scope of its federal lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The company seeks to focus solely on a free speech claim, alleging that the governor retaliated against Disney due to its public opposition to a state law that prohibits classroom teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Disney has now requested permission from a federal judge to file an amended complaint, specifically emphasizing the First Amendment claim. It aims to address questions regarding the legality of the agreements signed between Disney and Disney World’s governing district prior to DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature assuming control.

These agreements effectively transferred the control of design and construction at the theme park resort from DeSantis appointees on the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) to Disney. The newly appointed members of the board, aligned with DeSantis, are currently challenging the legality of these agreements in state court. Notably, DeSantis himself is not a party in the state court lawsuit.

Disney argues that the actions taken by the CFTOD board, with its new powers and composition, are causing concrete and ongoing harm to the company. Disney claims that these actions are a direct consequence of expressing a political view. In its federal court motion, the company states that it seeks to challenge “this unconstitutional weaponization of government” and obtain a declaratory judgment that will allow Disney to pursue its future endeavors in Florida without facing retaliatory measures from the CFTOD board.

However, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor rejected Disney’s motion to narrow the scope of the lawsuit, citing a procedural rule that requires Disney attorneys to confer with DeSantis’ legal representatives before making such a request. Judge Winsor advised Disney to refile its request after complying with this court rule. At present, Disney attorneys have not provided any comment on this matter.

The interconnectedness of the two lawsuits is becoming increasingly apparent, particularly after Disney filed a counter-claim in the state case, asserting many of the same allegations made in the federal case. This move by Disney followed the state court judge’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit. As a result, both lawsuits are now intertwined and have become significant legal battles between DeSantis and Disney.

The conflict between DeSantis and Disney originated when the company publicly voiced its opposition to a state law prohibiting classroom teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” policy. Consequently, DeSantis took over the district and appointed new supervisors to oversee municipal services for Disney’s vast theme parks and hotels. However, the authority of these new supervisors was limited by the agreements Disney had previously established with their predecessors.

In response to this limitation, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed legislation to repeal the existing agreements. These actions further intensified the ongoing dispute between DeSantis and Disney.

As the legal battles continue, the outcome of these lawsuits will have significant implications for both Disney and Governor DeSantis, potentially shaping the future of their relationship and the company’s operations in Florida.

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP

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