Federal Judge in Disney-DeSantis Lawsuit Recuses Himself, New Arbiter Will Preside

Jonathan D

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Federal Judge in Disney-DeSantis Lawsuit Recuses Himself, New Arbiter Will Preside

U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Fitzpatrick has recused himself from the lawsuit Walt Disney Parks & Resorts filed Wednesday against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his personally-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board.

Fitzpatrick stated he is related “in the third degree” to someone employed by one of the parties, and sought to avoid any potential conflict of interest by stepping aside. The case will now be assigned to a different judge.

The Battle of Central Florida

bob iger of disney and governor ron desantis in lawsuit battle

In the suit, Disney cites “a targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff further argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

Among other grievances, the Governor’s threat of new tolls and taxes, and the Board’s decision to void the company’s final agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District Board were included in the document.

The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.

Disney regrets that it has come to this, 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.

CEO Bob Iger previously accused DeSantis of violating the company’s First Amendment right of free speech. The company is demanding multiple items of relief be met, including:

  • A. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it abrogates Disney’s rights in violation of the Contracts Clause;
  • B. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is an unlawful taking of Disney’s property rights without payment of just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause;
  • C. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it was an arbitrary and irrational voiding of the Development Agreement and Restrictive Covenants in violation of the Due Process Clause;
  • D. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it was enacted in retaliation for Disney’s speech in violation of the First Amendment;
  • E. Declare that the Contracts remain in effect and enforceable;
  • F. Declare that Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B are unlawful and unenforceable because they were enacted in retaliation for Disney’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment;
  • G. Issue an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing the Legislative Declaration;
  • H. Issue an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B;
  • I. Award Plaintiff its attorney’s fees and costs;
  • J. Grant such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper.

Origins of the Feud

The Florida Governor and Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.

Bob Chapek Side Glance

Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from cast members and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.

In an apparent act of retribution over Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the attempted dissolution of Reedy Creek and the eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking a rather vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” invading the state. He further says he aims to put the people of Florida first through his actions:

Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.

The Governor insists he will double down on efforts to punish the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to hike hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property. Additionally, a bill was recently put forth that would require state inspections of the property’s Monorails.

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Author

  • Jonathan D

    Originally from Los Angeles and Honolulu, Jonathan is a fan of cinema and theme parks who grew up on the original California Disneyland, and nurtures a particular admiration in Orlando for EPCOT and Disney's Animal Kingdom. His favorite resort on Earth would be Disneyland Paris, which doesn't seem to get the full admiration it deserves. You can find him in the Hufflepuff Common Room by the kitchens at jonathan.doughty@wdwnt.com.