Disney Sues DeSantis over Control of its Florida Complex

April 26, 2023

Walt Disney Company on Wednesday filed suit against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a five-member board that DeSantis appointed to oversee its resort complex in Florida and other state officials over a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.” 

Disney filed its lawsuit moments after the five-member board voted to nullify two agreements that gave Disney vast control over expansion at the 25,000-acre resort complex.

The agreements had come out of a Florida state lawmakers meeting in February, where statehouse Republicans resolved to restructure the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the government body created in 1967 that effectively gave Disney control over the land in and around its central Florida theme parks.

Ultimately the lawmakers passed a bill in February to end “Disney’s self-governing status” and give Florida’s governor the authority to appoint new board members to the district.

Gov. DeSantis had targeted Reedy Creek last year after Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly criticized Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts certain classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In setting the expiration terms in one of the agreements, Disney invoked an obscure property law known as Rule Against Perpetuities, setting the date for “twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.” 

The agreements also give Disney the ability to build 14,000 additional hotel rooms, a fifth theme park and three smaller parks. Further, the deals restrict the use of land abutting Disney’s property. 

When DeSantis learned of the “perpetuities” clause in the deals to which his board members had signed on, he was reportedly outraged, and publicly suggested a number of potential punitive actions, including building a “state prison” next to Disney properties. 

The board’s nullification vote came after its general counsel, Daniel Langley, presented evidence of what he called “self-dealing” and “procedural unconscionability” by Disney in pushing through the agreements.

Disney’s lawsuit accuses DeSantis of a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint.” The complaint goes on to say that the campaign “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.”

Disney is reportedly the largest employer in the state of Florida, employing some 75,000 staffers and attracting 50 million visitors annually.

When the Reedy Creek district was established in 1967, it effectively turned the property into its own county, giving Disney control over its own fire protection, policing, waste management, energy generation, road maintenance, bond issuance and development planning.

Disney reportedly paid and collected a total of $1.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2022.

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