July 25th, 2024

DeSantis allies ask Florida judge to throw out Disney’s counterclaims in lawsuit

By The Associated Press on October 20, 2023.

FILE - Crowds fill Main Street USA in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom on the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2021. Facing backlash, Walt Disney World’s governing district will pay a stipend to employees whose free passes and discounts to the theme park resort were eliminated under a policy made by a new district administrator and board members who are allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Agreements that Disney made with the governing district for Walt Disney World before it was taken over by appointees of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis weren’t legally valid, and the company’s counterclaims against the district should be dismissed, the governing body said in court papers filed this week.

The governing district now controlled by supporters of the Republican governor said in court papers Wednesday that a state court judge should dismiss Disney’s counterclaims. The counterclaims seek a court declaration that the agreements are valid and that the district’s board of DeSantis allies violated the company’s contracts, free speech and due process rights.

The agreements shifted control over design and construction at Disney World from the district to the company and prohibited the district from using the likeness of Disney characters or other intellectual property without Disney’s permission. The agreements were signed in February before the district takeover by the DeSantis appointees, who claim the contracts neutered their powers for the district that provides municipal services for Disney World.

The takeover of the district, which was previously controlled by Disney allies, came after the company publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.

The contracts weren’t properly publicized and the Disney supporters on the district’s board at the time didn’t have the legal authority to sign the agreements, the district now-controlled by DeSantis supporters said in this week’s court papers.

“Disney has failed to allege any facts that demonstrate the existence of damages,” said the district, called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since the takeover after being called the Reedy Creek Improvement District for the previous 55 years.

Disney and DeSantis and his allies also are battling in federal court, where the company has sued DeSantis, claiming the governor violated its free speech rights by punishing it for expressing opposition to the law. DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District have asked a federal judge to throw out Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit, calling it meritless.

DeSantis currently is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

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Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

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