Disney is suing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, alleging his administration waged a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company’s “protected speech.” In the lawsuit, Disney claims DeSantis “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
“Disney regrets that it has come to this,” the lawsuit states. “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 in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.”
This is the latest development in an ongoing feud between Disney and DeSantis. After the company pushed back against the governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bars public school teachers from talking about sexual orientation, DeSantis took away power from the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special entity that grants Disney self-governing abilities — a move largely viewed as a punishment for the company’s political stance.
As part of the change, DeSantis signed a bill to replace the board that oversees the Reedy Creek Improvement District — now called Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — with his own hand-picked members starting in June. Earlier this month, he ordered an investigation into the district’s current board members after they implemented a new rule that would effectively make DeSantis’ new board powerless. The declaration, which the Reedy Creek Improvement District passed weeks before DeSantis signed his takeover into law, requires the board to give Disney the chance to “review and comment” on proposed property changes.
Disney addresses this change in its complaint, noting that it does “not undermine the newly constituted Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.” The company, instead, argues that this change wasn’t a “surprise” and states that the company held public forums before approving it. “In the very same legislation that replaced the elected board governing Disney with board members picked by the Governor, the State Legislature reaffirmed the enforceability of all prior contracts, including those here,” the lawsuit states.
During the company’s annual shareholder meeting earlier this month, Disney CEO Bob Iger, who reassumed the executive position after the feud first unfolded, called DeSantis’ actions “anti-Florida” and “anti-business” while noting that it seemed like DeSantis wanted “to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right.”
Disney’s lawsuit asks the court to declare DeSantis’ moves “unlawful and unenforceable,” claiming they were “enacted in retaliation for Disney’s speech in violation of the First Amendment,” among other reasons. It also asks that the court reverses the bills that dissolved Disney’s special district and stripped it of its special tax status. The Verge reached out to Disney and Governor DeSantis with requests for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.