Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Claims Immunity Again in Disney Lawsuit, ‘Welcomes Disney’s Surrender’

Brit Tuttle

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Claims Immunity Again in Disney Lawsuit, ‘Welcomes Disney’s Surrender’

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has replied to the motion to dismiss Disney’s ongoing lawsuit against him, citing that Disney does not have the standing to sue, and again claims that he is entitled to immunity from suit.

Ron DeSantis Claims Sovereign and Legislative Immunity

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Image Source: Maria Tama/Getty Images

Attorneys for DeSantis state in the reply that neither the governor nor the Secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity “have specific, formal power to enforce the challenged laws,” and that as a result, Disney “lacks standing and cannot overcome the State Defendants’ sovereign immunity” and its claims are also “barred by legislative immunity.”

Disney’s response teems with majestic generalities about how the State Defendants ‘implement, administer, and enforce’ the challenged provisions. But Disney must do more than generalize: it must show that the State Defendants have specific, formal power to enforce challenged laws, such that an injunction against them would ‘be effectual.’

Attorneys for DeSantis claim that Disney’s “alleged injuries” are “neither traceable to the State Defendants nor redressable by an injunction against them,” and therefore lacks standing. The reply also argues that while Disney acknowledges the precedent that a plaintiff cannot sue a governor to “remedy harms caused by the governor’s appointees,” Disney’s claim that the case is different because of its loss of voting rights is “fatally imprecise,” as “the governor did not strip Disney of any voting rights by appointing anyone;” instead, it was the legislature that did when it repealed Reedy Creek Improvement District’s 1967 charter.

Ron DeSantis Nov 22

Regarding DeSantis once again claiming immunity from suit, his attorneys claim that “to bypass the State Defendants’ sovereign immunity, Disney must show that they ‘enforce the laws […] at issue in the suit,'” and since they do not enforce those laws, “they are not proper parties and should be dismissed.” The response also claims that DeSantis’ acts to call on the legislature to “pass bills to punish Disney for its speech” and working to get those bills passed are all legislative in nature, those acts “are protected by absolute legislative immunity.”

In response, Disney effective concedes that those assertions — much of its complaint, really — were a more glorified press release than part of a legal document. Disney now claims that it is challenging only the governor’s executive actions: his appointment power and his purported control over the Board’s actions. The governor welcomes Disney’s surrender on all of its claims challenging his legislative acts. As for the claims Disney continues to press, Disney lacks standing to sue the governor for those actions and has not overcome his sovereign immunity for the reasons discussed above.

Central Florida Tourism Oversight District logo

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board also submitted a reply in support of the motion to dismiss, arguing that the case belongs in state court instead, and that RCID “lacked any authority whatsoever” to enter into special development agreements in the final weeks before the company lost control of the District.

You can read both replies by clicking the links below.

This comes after former Republican officials filed a motion to support Disney in the lawsuit, agreeing that DeSantis “has thrown down nothing short of a direct challenge to the founding principles of this country.” You can read more about that here.

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
Image source: Deadline

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.

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.

Glen Gilzean, Jr.

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 Ron 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).

Bob Iger Layoffs March 2023 1

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.

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Ron DeSantis 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 raise hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property, and suggested the idea of building a prison on space directly beside Disney land. Additionally, a bill was passed mandating state inspections of the resort’s monorails.

There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.

What do you think of this latest update to the ongoing Disney v. Ron DeSantis lawsuit? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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