Disney Fails to Get Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board’s Lawsuit Dismissed

Shannen Ace

Updated on:

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom

Disney Fails to Get Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board’s Lawsuit Dismissed

Shannen Ace

Updated on:

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom

Disney Fails to Get Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board’s Lawsuit Dismissed

After a hearing earlier this month, Judge Margaret H. Schreiber has ruled to not dismiss the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors’ lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company.

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Disney filed a federal lawsuit against the Board and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in late April for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” The CFTOD Board filed a state countersuit on May 1, which is the suit in question.

In mid-May, Disney filed a motion asking Schreiber to dismiss the countersuit because it was “moot.” The motion stated that Florida law requires the court to stay the lawsuit until Disney’s own federal lawsuit against the Board and Governor DeSantis is resolved.

The CFTOD Board fired back, stating, “Disney’s motion is classic Imagineering, inviting the court to make believe that reality is whatever Disney dreams up.”

Schreiber determined the Board’s lawsuit was not moot, citing,

[A]n issue is ‘moot’ ‘when the controversy has been so fully resolved that a judicial determination can have no actual effect.’

The ‘issue’ of whether the Agreements are void ab initio will not be resolved until a court of competent jurisdiction decides the issue in favor of one part or the other. That issue is alive and active and has real-world consequences for both parties […] The validity and enforceability of the Agreements is at the heart of both the state and federal lawsuits. This alone bodes against a mootness argument.

The judge’s order goes on to say that “Florida courts also will not dismiss a case as moot when ‘the questions raised are of great public importance or are likely to recur,’ and believes that this lawsuit at hand fulfills both of those caveats.

The order also clarifies that the federal court lacks concurrent jurisdiction over the District’s state law claims, and the “principle of priority” that Disney relies on for a stay does not apply; and even if it did, the court would still deny the stay due to the exceptional circumstances of the suit.

Jeremy T. Redfern, press secretary for the Executive Office of the Governor, released a statement following the judge’s decision:

We are pleased to see that Disney will have to defend themselves on the merits instead of having the corporate press spike the football on their behalf.

Disney has no right to its own government and special privileges. Governor DeSantis will ensure that there will be a level playing field for businesses in Florida.

Governor DeSantis previously filed a motion to dismiss Disney’s federal lawsuit against him and the Board, but things are happening quicker with the state lawsuit than with the federal one.

A History of the Disney-DeSantis 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 was Chief Executive Officer at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from Cast Members, the LGBTQ+ community, 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.

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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 dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking an incredibly vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” allegedly invading the state — frequently stating his intention to put the people of Florida first through these actions and the newly-formed CFTOD board:

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.

Every member of this governing body has been a handpicked ally of the Governor thus far, including a Christian nationalist and lawyer who donated $50,000 to the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, among others. In May, an administrator for the district (Glen Gilzean) was also appointed, with a significantly increased $400,000 salary directly related to ongoing DeSantis-led legal fights regarding Disney and several other issues around the state. The legal expenditures made by the Governor are being funded by Florida taxpayers.

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Critics worry the role and its new incumbent could be weaponized for further orchestrated attacks, fines, and intentionally disruptive impediments on Walt Disney World, and that Gilzean himself is essentially receiving compensation to be aligned with the Governor’s whims. Daniel Langley, special general council for the district, alternatively describes the Administrator as “another tool in the toolbox for enforcement.”

Currently, Gilzean is the Chair of Florida’s Commission on Ethics, a position Governor DeSantis appointed him to. The Commission “renders legally binding advisory opinions interpreting the ethics laws and implements the State’s financial disclosure laws.” Recently, it rejected a complaint from the MAGA Inc. Super PAC backing Donald Trump, which claimed DeSantis was violating campaign finance laws and running a “shadow” campaign for President (via AP News).

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After heated exchanges and dramatic actions taken by the Governor alleged to be intentionally harmful punishments, The Walt Disney Company sued him and his newly handpicked board not long after Bob Iger’s return as CEO, citing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

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.