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Disney has no basis to sue Florida, state argues

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(The Center Square) – Disney has no basis to sue Florida, the state argues in a motion it filed with the court asking it to dismiss the case.

Disney sued the governor and several state officials and agencies in April, claiming its business operations were in jeopardy and its constitutional rights were violated by a “a targeted campaign of government retaliations – orchestrated at every step by Governor Ron DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” It’s referring to its opposition to a parental rights bill the state legislature passed and the governor signed into law last year.

It sued after the legislature last year and again in February stripped Disney of its independent special district status, which was established one year before the Florida Constitution was ratified in 1968. The 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which created the Reedy Creek Development District, enabled the Walt Disney Company to operate as an independent governing entity like a county without being governed by a county. The law gave Disney control over police and fire services, electricity, water, construction zoning and other operations within 25,000 acres located in Orange and Osceola counties.

Also last year, several Florida residents sued to stop efforts to strip Disney’s special status and a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit.

Roughly six months later, Osceola County officials asked the legislature to amend, reenact or repeal the 1967 law, to increase state oversight, accountability, and transparency of the district, and revise “the selection process, membership qualifications, and compensation for the governing body of the District.”

Florida filed a motion to dismiss Disney’s lawsuit on Monday, arguing “the Court lacks jurisdiction over at least two defendants – the Governor and the Secretary – who are also immune from suit. Although Disney has grabbed headlines by suing the Governor, Disney – like many litigants before it who have challenged Florida’s laws – has no basis for doing so.”

The motion states that neither the governor nor the secretary “enforce any of the laws at issue, so Disney lacks standing to sue them.”

The legislature responded to Osceola County’s request by creating a new entity – the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The legislature ensured new governing board members would be selected by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. Prior to the law going into effect, Disney made agreements with RCID board members to grant Disney powers the board previously held.

“RCID’s powers gave Disney carte blanche to govern itself,” Florida’s complaint states. “Local taxes? Disney set them. Building and safety codes? Disney set those, too. Caps on land development? Disney made the final call. Disney could exercise eminent domain, permitting it to annex territory even outside the District’s borders, all without legislative approval. It could build and operate an airport, or even a nuclear power plant.”

The new law prohibited the CFTOD from complying with any preexisting agreements. As a result, the newly appointed CFTOD board nullified RCID board agreements with Disney and Disney’s contracts stating they were void under Florida law.

In Disney’s amended complaint filed in May, it argues three bills the legislature passed and the governor signed into law are unconstitutional.

Florida describes Disney’s constitutional claim as meritless after its previous “last-ditch power grabs” were “foiled” by state law. Its lawsuit is “meritless for many reasons, not least of which is that a special district cannot bind the State to transfer a portion of its sovereign authority to a private entity,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit and motion were filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

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