Disney asks court to dismiss DeSantis board lawsuit over tax district
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Disney on Tuesday asked a Florida court to dismiss a lawsuit by the board of supervisors that Gov. Ron DeSantis had handpicked to oversee Walt Disney World’s operations.
The court filing argues that the lawsuit has been rendered moot after DeSantis signed a bill that voided Disney’s development deals, which are at now at the center of the long-running conflict between Disney and the Republican governor.
By signing that legislation, DeSantis essentially carried out the same action that the board is asking the court to take, Disney argued.
The governor’s move “makes any order this Court could issue — in either party’s favor — legally irrelevant,” Disney’s lawyers wrote.
The state-level case was filed in response to Disney’s federal lawsuit accusing DeSantis and the board members of carrying out a campaign of political retribution against the entertainment giant. Disney filed suit after the board voted to undo development contracts that the company says it struck to secure its investments.
Disney expanded its lawsuit last week, accusing DeSantis of doubling down on his political vendetta by signing legislation to void Disney’s development deals in Orlando.
The battle between DeSantis and one of his state’s largest employers began after Disney publicly criticized the controversial Florida bill — dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics — that limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.
The governor and his allies soon after targeted Disney’s special tax district, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which has allowed the entertainment giant to effectively self-govern its Orlando parks’ operations for decades.
The district was ultimately left intact, but its five-member board was replaced with DeSantis’ picks.
In March, the district’s new slate of supervisors accused Disney of crafting “11th-hour” development deals intended to thwart the board’s power over the 25,000-acre area. Disney disputes that characterization, arguing that the contracts were crafted to help lock in its long-term development plans.
A spokesman for the new board of supervisors did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Disney’s court filing.
DeSantis has kept up his fight with Disney as he positions himself for a likely presidential campaign announcement in the coming weeks. The governor, who is currently seen as former President Donald Trump’s biggest threat for the 2024 Republican nomination, has curried Republican favor and gained national attention by waging a high-profile fights over hot-button cultural issues.
But he may have swung too hard at Disney, should it prevail in its motion to dismiss the board’s lawsuit a a result of the governor’s additional legislation.
Disney argued that that bill entirely undercuts the litigation against it, regardless of who would win.
If the court agrees with Disney that its development deals were valid, then “the board would still be prohibited from complying with them under the new state statute,” Disney argued.
On the other hand, if the court sided with the board, its ruling “would be pointless because the contracts would already be void under the new state statute,” the company wrote.
“In short, any declaration about the contracts’ enforceability, voidness, or validity — either way — would be an advisory opinion with no real-world consequence. Trial courts in Florida are forbidden from issuing advisory opinions, and this case should be dismissed,” Disney argued.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.