Disney Argues New Florida Law Nullifies DeSantis-Backed Suit

A Florida bill designed to undermine Disney could end up helping the company, at least in a lawsuit in state court over the development of Walt Disney World near Orlando. .

Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney have been in talks for more than a year about a special tax zone surrounding Disney World. The battle began when the company criticized a Florida education law that opponents labeled “don’t say you’re gay,” infuriating Mr. DeSantis.

His punitive actions since then and Disney’s self-defense efforts prompted Disney to file a federal lawsuit on April 26, accusing DeSantis and his allies of engaging in a “targeted government retaliation campaign.” .

DeSantis’ new tax district responded by suing Disney in state court. The district’s lawsuit, filed on May 1, seeks to void the contract with Disney that solidified plans to develop the resort. A few days later, the Florida legislature passed a bill, at Mr. DeSantis’ request, banning the district from following the contract. DeSantis signed it into law on May 5.

On Tuesday, Disney filed a motion to dismiss the state court lawsuit. As a matter of legal process, the case was routine. Disney wants to drop state lawsuits and focus on federal lawsuits.

But the company’s arguments about why the District’s lawsuit should be dismissed were less anticipated. Mr. DeSantis and his congressional comrades vacated the lawsuit in subsequent actions, the filing said. By barring the district from following the contract, Mr. DeSantis and Congress ruled that “any order this court may issue in favor of either party is legally irrelevant.”

“In short, any declaration regarding the enforceability, invalidity, or validity of a contract will in any event be an advisory opinion with no real-world impact,” Disney said in the filing. added inside. “Florida courts of first instance are barred from issuing advisory opinions.” The company cited more than 40 court decisions to support its claims.

In an email, Alexei Wortornist, a spokesman for the tax office, said Disney’s allegations were “completely predictable, and Disney acknowledged that it knew it would lose this lawsuit.” Stated. A spokeswoman for DeSantis was not immediately available for comment.

Disney’s motion continues that if a state judge allows the lawsuit to proceed, the issue should be put on hold while the federal lawsuit progresses. Disney pointed out that Florida law recognizes “a firm ‘priority doctrine’ that state proceedings should be suspended pending prior federal court proceedings.”

In addition to being filed earlier, the federal lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of a new law barring school districts from complying with development contracts, Disney’s filing said. His filing states that the resolution of the federal lawsuit will “significantly affect the viability” of claims in state lawsuits.

At the heart of Mr. DeSantis’ dispute with Disney is a 56-year-old special tax district. The district effectively made the land its own county, giving Disney extraordinary control over fire protection, security, waste management, energy generation, road maintenance, bond issuance, and development planning.

There are hundreds of similar districts in Florida. One of which covers The Villages, a huge senior community in northwest Orlando. The other covers the Daytona International Speedway and surrounding areas.

In February, Congress decided to allow governors to appoint oversight boards for Disney districts to curb the company’s autonomy. But when the appointees reported to the mission, it turned out that the previous Disney-controlled board had approved a development agreement that limited the powers of the new board over the next few decades.

Disney paid and collected a combined $1.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2022, according to company disclosures. Earlier this year, Disney announced it would allocate $17 billion to resort expansion spending over the next decade, a growth that would create an additional 13,000 jobs for the company. Disney said last week that it was “considering where it makes the most sense to direct future investments” in theme park construction, a clear indication of Florida’s conflict.

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