The ongoing battle between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney reached a new level Wednesday morning as the company filed a lawsuit over what it is calling government retaliation.
It’s the latest twist in a fight that began when Disney took a company-wide stance against the Parental Rights in Education Act that was heavily endorsed by DeSantis. Disney opposed the bill after internal pushback from employees over the company’s silence over the bill.
In the lawsuit, the company is claiming that DeSantis engaged in a “targeted campaign” of retaliation following their stance against the bill.
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.
Today’s action is the latest strike: At the Governor’s bidding, the State’s oversight board has purported to “void” publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs. This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional. But the Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop. The Governor recently declared that his team would not only “void the development agreement”—just as they did today—but also planned “to look at things like taxes on the hotels,” “tolls on the roads,” “developing some of the property that the district owns” with “more amusement parks,” and even putting a “state prison” next to Walt Disney World. “Who knows? I just think the possibilities are endless,” he said.
As part of the alleged retaliation, Disney is taking on the continued fight over Reedy Creek and the agreement that gave the company autonomous status over the property. A governor-appointed board, whose members are also named as defendants, on Wednesday “voted to nullify earlier agreements that had given Disney authority over most construction near its Orlando resort,” according to Axios.
“In the complaint,” Axios reports, “Disney said the board’s move was ‘patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.'”
In its lawsuit, Disney claims that it “has never wanted a fight with the Florida government.”
The Company sought to de-escalate the matter for nearly a year, trying several times to spark a productive dialogue with the DeSantis Administration. To no avail.
Amid great uncertainty about the lengths to which the State would go to keep punishing Disney for its views, RCID and the Company gave public notice, in January 2023, that they would enter into contracts to secure future development for the District and Walt Disney World—contracts that implemented a comprehensive plan for the District that the DeSantis Administration itself had found compliant with Florida law months earlier.
Gov. DeSantis' "state prison" joke makes an appearance in Disney's lawsuit. pic.twitter.com/rOzSE1Kcrf
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) April 26, 2023
The lawsuit comes at a time when DeSantis is navigating a peculiar political landscape. Considered a potential top contender against former president Donald Trump in 2024, DeSantis has been heavily criticized over his battle with Disney – including from Trump himself. The criticisms have not deterred the governor, however, who has maintained his position opposing the autonomy and lack of any oversight Disney has received from the state. A legal battle between the two, however, could also provide a big distraction to any possible presidential hopes.