Disney and Ron DeSantis’ hand-picked oversight board will be wreaking havoc in several courts in a legal battle for control of the district overseeing development around the theme parks.
The lawsuit, filed May 1 in state court covering Orange and Osceola counties, accuses the entertainment giant of covertly cobble together a “series of eleventh-hour deals” to return powers to its now-dissolved special district. to the company before DeSantis took control of the board. It escalates a clash between the Republican governor and Florida’s largest employer, who are seeking retribution in a dueling lawsuit for defiance of a state law.
The latest legal salvo challenges the validity of the development deal, while Disney challenges a board vote and legislation that voids that deal. The cases will proceed, at least for the time being, simultaneously in state and federal court. If Disney wins its constitutional claims, the current board’s lawsuit could be contested if the court rules actions that undermine the company’s control of the district are unenforceable. U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, who was assigned the case, ruled against DeSantis last year in a First Amendment case over a law that limits college professors’ instructions about what students can learn. The judge assigned to the new council’s lawsuit may stay the case until the lawsuit is resolved in federal court.
The complaint does not dispute allegations of retaliation and instead focuses on deals Disney made with the previous board before DeSantis took over. The 30-year agreement allows Disney to retain development authority over the district, with approval to build another theme park and restrictions preventing the new board from making changes to the sprawling grounds without obtaining the company’s approval .
“These agreements smack of a backroom deal — drafted by Disney with the consent of an attorney representing both Disney and the district, put to a hearing without proper notice, and pushed through a docile Disney-controlled board that Disney knew would not last long. dwell on the problem,” the charge reads.
In response to law reforms to remove some of its powers, Disney used its control over the district and its two neighboring municipalities to “stamp” the agreements, according to the complaint. The current board claims that the former board was not authorized to make the deal.
“The development agreement and restrictive covenants are riddled with procedural and substantive deficiencies,” the suit reads. “Not only do they violate the clear and unequivocal legal mandates governing the approval of these agreements by the RCID, but they also violate the established principles of Florida’s constitutional and common law.”
The new board also points to alleged procedural errors in publicly disclosing the hearings in which the former board approved the deals. Although the district has published notices in The Orlando Sentinelargues that they have not told property owners how the proposal would affect them.
Martin Garcia, board chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, said Monday during a vote to approve the lawsuit that the goal is to confirm development authority over the company. “Since Disney sued us, we have no choice but to respond,” he said.
In its lawsuit, Disney stressed that it was cornered to file a lawsuit. It wrote that it “is in this regrettable position because it expressed a position that did not please the governor and his allies,” the indictment said. The company will likely delay the state lawsuit until Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, rules on the validity of legislation allowing DeSantis to take control of the district. In a case involving Florida’s so-called “Stop Woke Act,” the judge ruled against DeSantis and blocked parts of the law.
“In the popular television series Stranger things, the ‘upside down’ describes a parallel dimension containing a distorted version of our world,” Walker wrote. “Recently, Florida seemed upside down like a First Amendment.”
DeSantis will likely appeal a ruling in Disney’s lawsuit if he loses. It will be considered by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, where more than half of the judges were nominated by former President Donald Trump.
The Disney and DeSantis office did not respond to requests for comment. The Florida Inspector General is currently investigating criminal fraud related to alleged ethical violations, such as conflict of interest and self-dealing, in connection with the approval of the development agreements. DeSantis called for an investigation into the validity of the deal on April 3.