Saturday, February 24, 2024

DeSantis Wins: Federal Judge Rejects Disney’s ‘Government Retaliation’ Lawsuit

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A federal judge has dismissed the Walt Disney Co.’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ruling that state legislators had a right to regain control of the district that governs the amusement park.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor in Tallahassee said in his decision Wednesday that Disney lacked standing in its First Amendment lawsuit against the Republican governor and the secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. 

Disney filed a lawsuit last April claiming DeSantis organized a “government retaliation.” The entertainment giant accused him of punishing the company for exercising its right to freedom of speech when he signed legislation that transferred control of Disney World’s self-governing district – which had operated independently from the state – giving control back to the state of Florida.

As CBN News reported, the law eliminated the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 55-year-old Disney government, as well as a handful of other similar districts by June 2023.  

Additionally, it created a new special district called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District forcing Disney to cancel plans for a $1 billion campus in Florida.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was a private government controlled by Disney World and was set up by the state legislature in 1967 allowing it to maintain its own government services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure.

The “House of Mouse” had claimed DeSantis only enacted the law to dissolve Walt Disney World’s private government because it publicly opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act. 

That law bars public school educators from teaching gender identity and sexual orientation ideology to young children in pre-K through third-grade classrooms.

Disney began lobbying against the pro-family legislation engaging in political activism and mislabeling it. 

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” a spokesperson for Disney said in a statement in March 2022.

The Disney statement continued, “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

DeSantis at the time said Disney lied about the content of the education law but that he viewed the company’s vow to fight the law as unacceptable.

“You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re gonna marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state. We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back against that,” DeSantis said.

Both houses of the Florida legislature and DeSantis voted to eliminate Disney World’s special privileges that had essentially established the Walt Disney Company as its own private government. 

Disney filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to undo the move. 

“Disney regrets it has come to this,” the company’s parks division said in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Florida.

“But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney,” the statement declared.

In a 17-page order, Judge Winsor said Disney’s lawsuit lacked merit to sue the governor.

The governor’s press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, applauded the verdict. 

“The Corporate Kingdom is over. The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone,” he wrote. “Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government.”

Meanwhile, Disney said it would “press forward with its case.” 

“If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with,” Disney said in a statement.

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