DeSantis-Appointed Florida Board Countersues Disney

May 1, 2023

A five-member board that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed to oversee Disney’s resort complex in Florida has filed a countersuit against the entertainment behemoth.

The board’s suit comes a week after Disney sued its members, DeSantis and other Florida state officials over what it called a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.”

In March, the board had voted to nullify two agreements that gave Disney vast control over expansion at the 25,000-acre resort complex.

Those 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 they passed a bill in February to end “Disney’s self-governing status” and give Florida’s governor the authority to appoint those five 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 also restrict the use of land abutting Disney’s property. 

When DeSantis learned of the “perpetuity” clause in the deals to which his board members had signed, 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 filed last week accused DeSantis of a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint.” The campaign, the complaint added, “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.

Board Chairman Martin Garcia said Monday that his panel had “no choice now but to respond” to the Disney lawsuit, adding, “We’ll seek justice in our own backyard.”

DeSantis has further pledged to take on and win “every single issue involving Disney.”

Disney is reportedly the largest employer in the state of Florida, issuing paychecks to 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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