The lawsuit filed on 26 April accuses the governor’s administration of waging a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint” following a series of punitive measures from Florida Republicans targeting the company for its public opposition to what opponents called the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The lawsuit claims Mr DeSantis “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.”
A motion filed in US District Court on 26 June argues that Mr DeSantis is entitled to “legislative immunity” that shields the actions of the governor and lawmakers in “the proposal, formulation, and passage of legislation.”
Attorneys for Mr DeSantis argue that the governor and the secretary of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity are both “immune” from the suit.
“Neither the Governor nor the Secretary enforce any of the laws at issue, so Disney lacks standing to sue them,” the motion argues.
After Disney’s public objections to the “Parental Rights in Education Act”, the governor and members of his administration ignited a feud that escalated to Republican threats to punish Disney’s operations in the state and ultimately resulted in his administration taking control of them.
A municipal district, implemented in 1967, allowed Disney to effectively control its own land use and zoning rules and operate its own public services, including water, sanitation, emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.
With Disney as the primary landowner for the district, the company is largely responsible for the costs of municipal services that otherwise would fall under the jurisdiction of county and local governments, including the taxpayers who live within them. In effect, Disney taxed itself to foot the district’s bill for its municipal needs.
Attorneys for Mr DeSantis called that decades-long arrangement a “sweetheart deal” that gave Disney “carte blanche to govern itself” through a “puppet” board.
After the governor signed legislation that amounted to a state takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, his appointees to the new board that replaced it were outraged to find that the previous board approved changes that would remain in effect for years to come.
Attorneys for Mr DeSantis called it a “last-ditch power grab”.
The DeSantis-appointed board voted to nullify those arrangements, and Disney promptly sued.
“This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” Disney’s lawsuit argued.
The ongoing legal battle and the governor’s crusade against inclusive classroom instruction and honest discussion of gender, sexuality, race and racism in classrooms have surrounded his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Mr DeSantis has ushered through a series of administrative policies and Florida laws – some of which have been struck down in court – targeting public education and LGBT+ people, particularly gender-affirming care for transgender people in Florida.
In a seven-figure ad series from the DeSantis-backing Never Back Down political action committee, the campaign accuses Disney of promoting “secret sexual content” and slams Bud Light and Target for supporting trans people.