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Disney asks Florida court to dismiss suit from DeSantis-picked board

A family walks past Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
A family walks past Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida.
(Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday asked a Florida judge to dismiss a lawsuit from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ hand-selected board that seeks to invalidate the entertainment company’s development contracts for the land encompassing its vast parks and resorts in the Sunshine State.

Disney’s motion to dismiss the case, filed in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit Court for Orange County, is the latest salvo in a long dispute between DeSantis and the Mouse House over control of the 27,000-acre area that is home to Walt Disney World.

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The case concerns contracts that Disney signed with the board of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District that the new DeSantis-picked supervisors want to have declared void. Disney’s motion essentially says the court doesn’t have to rule in the matter because Florida’s legislature has already invalidated the deals in question.

Florida’s Senate on Wednesday voted to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allows Disney to function as its own government.

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Therefore, the dispute should be resolved in federal court where Disney is battling DeSantis, the company’s lawyers argue.

“A ruling in [the district’s] favor would be pointless, and a ruling in Disney’s favor would be meaningless,” Disney said in its filing.

Alexei Woltornist, a spokesman for the district, called Disney’s filing “entirely predictable and an acknowledgment they know they will lose this case.”

The Bob Iger-led company sued DeSantis and other state officials last month, alleging that the governor and his allies had orchestrated “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” against Disney in response to its opposition to Florida’s education law restricting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade.

The company came out against the law, known to critics as “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, last year. DeSantis responded by deriding Disney as a “woke” corporation and by trying to strip Disney of its self-governing privileges in the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

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Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have been battling over the company’s self-governing powers in the area of the state that includes Walt Disney World Resort.

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The district, created by Florida lawmakers in 1967, authorized Disney to essentially pick its municipal government, allowing it to issue bonds and provide its own utilities and emergency services.

DeSantis, after signing a new law in February, named a new board of conservatives to oversee the district, which was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. But before the new supervisors took over, Disney cut development agreements with the outgoing board that significantly reduced the power of the incoming group.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week declared Walt Disney Co.’s ‘corporate kingdom’ in Florida is over. What does that actually mean?

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The new board voted to repudiate those deals as void, prompting Disney to sue in federal court. Separately, the DeSantis-backed governing body sued Disney on May 1, asking the state court to declare Disney’s contracts with the former board invalid.

Disney’s motion to dismiss the board’s suit argues that complaint is moot because the state legislature passed a law that effectively voided the contracts at the state level by prohibiting the board “from complying with the terms” of the contracts.

“The legislature has forbidden [the district] from complying with the contracts, rendering them immediately void and unenforceable,” Disney said in the motion. “In the Governor’s own words, they ‘are revoked.’ This court accordingly cannot provide meaningful relief to either party.”

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