ORLANDO, Fla. — Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a state agency and his appointees to a revamped board that governs Disney World are asking a judge to dismiss a federal lawsuit in which Disney claims its free speech rights were violated by the takeover of its governing district. The lawsuit states this happened in retaliation for Disney’s opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation championed by the Florida governor.
Attorneys for DeSantis, the secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the DeSantis appointees to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed motions Monday asking that Disney’s lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee either be dismissed, put on hold or that they be dropped as defendants.
The federal court lacks jurisdiction over the Republican governor and the state agency’s secretary, who are immune to the lawsuit, and the governor and secretary don’t enforce any of the laws at issue so Disney lacks standing to pursue its claims, attorneys for the state of Florida argued in their motion to dismiss.
The motion also argues that DeSantis has legislative immunity which protects him from actions taken while conducting “legitimate legislative activity.”
“Although Disney has grabbed headlines by suing the Governor, Disney — like many litigants before it who have challenged Florida’s laws — has no basis for doing so,” the motion states.
In their motion, the DeSantis’ appointees to the Disney World governing board asked a federal judge to either dismiss the case or put it on hold until after some of the same issues raised in the federal lawsuit are resolved in state court where the board has a lawsuit pending against Disney.
The DeSantis appointees took over the Disney World governing board earlier this year following a yearlong feud between the company and DeSantis. The fight began last year after Disney, beset by significant pressure internally and externally, publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
As punishment, DeSantis took over the district through legislation passed by Florida lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors to oversee municipal services for the sprawling theme parks and hotels. But before the new board came in, the company made agreements with previous oversight board members who were Disney supporters that stripped the new supervisors of their authority over design and construction.
In response, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed legislation that repealed those agreements.
Disney sued DeSantis and the five-member board, asking a federal judge to void the governor’s takeover of the theme park district, as well as the oversight board’s actions, on the grounds they were violations of the company’s free speech rights.
The board sued Disney in state court in an effort to maintain its control of construction and design at Disney World.
DeSantis, who announced his campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination in May, has used the fight with Disney to burnish his “anti-woke” credentials and demonstrate his ability to push a conservative agenda.