Federal judge dismisses Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis

Federal judge dismisses Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Disney’s free speech lawsuit accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis and state officials of political retaliation after the entertainment giant opposed a law limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled that Disney did not have legal standing to sue DeSantis and Florida’s commerce secretary.

He also wrote that Disney’s claims against members of the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board “failed on the merits.”

Disney issued a statement signaling that it will appeal the decision.

“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” a company spokesperson said in an unsigned statement. “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. We are determined to press forward with our case.”

The ruling dealt a major setback to Disney’s efforts to regain control of the special district that provides government services to its Central Florida theme parks and resorts. Disney alleged DeSantis and state officials engaged in a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after it opposed what critics called the “don’t say gay” law in 2022.

As the feud intensified, the Legislature voted in early 2023 to overhaul Disney’s district and give the governor the power to pick its board members. DeSantis replaced Disney loyalists with Republican allies, upending an arrangement that effectively allowed the corporation to self-govern Disney World for more than 50 years.

Disney filed its suit in April 2023, asking the courts to undo the state takeover.

Winsor, though, didn’t accept Disney’s argument that changing the governing structure of the special district amounted to a constitutional violation.

“[I]t is settled law that ‘when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose,’” wrote Winsor, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.

The ruling doesn’t affect a separate lawsuit in state court that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed against Disney. That suit deals with development agreements between the previous Reedy Creek Improvement District board and Disney that limited the new board’s authority over development.

The new DeSantis-appointed board is asking the courts to void those agreements.

The governor’s office and tourism oversight did not immediately provide comment after Wednesday’s ruling.

This is a developing story and will be updated.