Sarah May
September 11, 2023

Disney drops all but one claim in federal lawsuit against DeSantis

In a surprising twist in the ongoing battle between the Walt Disney Company and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the entertainment giant has narrowed its federal lawsuit against the state's chief executive, leaving only its First Amendment retaliation claim, as the New York Post reports.

While the company had initially included a series of other claims related to a dispute over development contracts, executives determined that those could be suitably addressed in a separate lawsuit in state court and that efforts in federal court would focus on allegations that Florida engaged in a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the media giant.

Federal complaint trimmed

As NBC News notes, the adjustments to Disney's complaint have served to shrink its size from 84 pages down to 48 and have streamlined the claims involved to a substantial degree.

Even so, that is not to say that the company has assigned less importance to the contractual claims that were initially included in the federal case.

“We will continue to fight vigorously to defend these contracts, because these agreements will determine whether or not Disney can invest billions of dollars and generate thousands of new jobs in Florida,” a spokesperson stated.

Contentious history

The move represents the latest legal maneuvers in what has become a rancorous battle between Disney and DeSantis, first triggered by the former's arguably ill-advised foray into state political matters last year.

Disney executives went public with criticism of Florida's parental rights in education law, which prohibited the discussion of gender identity and related topics in K-3 classrooms, a measure which was erroneously and maliciously labeled by opponents as the “Don't Say Gay” bill.

Determined to take a stand against what he viewed as inappropriate corporate meddling in state political affairs, DeSantis moved to strip Disney of the self-governing privileges it had long enjoyed, which stemmed from a special tax district in the vicinity of its Orlando theme park properties.

Though DeSantis renamed the district and appointed a new board of his own choosing, Disney moved quickly with the prior board to secure lucrative development contracts that were later nullified by the new directors, spurring the current litigation and inflaming existing tensions between the parties.

Moving on?

Disney's decision to drop all but its First Amendment retaliation claim in the federal lawsuit comes after DeSantis in August called on the company to follow his lead and move on from the hostilities, as the Post reported at the time.

Asked during an interview on CNBC about his advice to Disney CEO Bob Iger regarding the continued battle, the governor said, “I would just say go back to what you did well, I think it's going to be the right business decision. We've basically moved on, they're suing the state of Florida, and they're going to lose that lawsuit. So, what I would say is drop the lawsuit.”

In the wake of the company's decision to amend its federal claims, the DeSantis-backed board stated that it was “pleased that Disney backtracked on these legal claims against the district,” but precisely what comes next in what has become a bitter feud with potentially serious economic fallout, only time will tell.

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