(The Center Square) – Disney’s free speech case against the state of Florida on Wednesday was dismissed by a federal judge.
Disney has indicated in a statement released to the media that it intends to appeal the decision.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled in favor of the state in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit that was filed because of what Disney said was its opposition to a ban on teaching students about gay and transgender issues.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature later disbanded the Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967 as one of the incentives that brought Disney to Florida. Lawmakers replaced it with a body whose members were appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate.
In his opinion, Winsor said, “In short, Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor or the Secretary, and its claims against the CFTOD (Central Florida Tourism Oversight District) Defendants fail on the merits because when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.”
Winsor cited a 2015 case from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Hubbard vs. Alabama Education Association. The precedent was an action constitutionally permissible – as it was for the state of Alabama to ban the practice of taking union dues from members’ paychecks – prevents a free-speech case being brought against a governmental entity.
“As stated by Governor (Ron) DeSantis when he signed HB9-B, the Corporate Kingdom is over,” said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the DeSantis administration. “The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone.
“The federal court’s decision made it clear that Governor DeSantis was correct: Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government. In short – as long predicted, case dismissed.”
In a statement released by the company, Disney officials said, “This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here.
“If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”
The dispute between the entertainment giant and the DeSantis administration began when Disney opposed the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” a bill that banned teachers in kindergarten through fourth grade from teaching about gay and transgender issues.
Lawmakers voted to disband the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allowed Disney to exercise almost complete autonomy over 25,000 acres of property. This included having power over development projects, roads and taxes, with the district providing fire and emergency medical services and contracting with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for police protection.
The governmental body largely controlled by Disney also had the power to borrow money for infrastructure improvements at municipal bond rates, saving the company millions.
Disney, according to an audit report, provided perks to Reedy Creek employees.