Disney’s free speech lawsuit against Ron DeSantis dismissed by federal judge

ORLANDO, Florida (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Disney's free speech lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, dealing a blow to the company's hopes. regain control The district that controls Walt Disney World after it is taken over by individuals appointed by the Governor.

U.S. District Judge Alan Winsor in Tallahassee said in his ruling that Disney lacked standing in its First Amendment lawsuit against the Republican governor and the secretary of Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity. The judge also said Disney's claims against DeSantis' appointment to the Disney World Governing District lacked merit.

Disney said it plans to appeal the federal judge's decision. A separate lawsuit over who controls the district is still pending in state court in Orlando.

Disney had argued that the law was signed by DeSantis and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. thereby transferring control The Disney World Governing District was a retaliation by the company for publicly opposing the statehood, from Disney supporters to DeSantis appointees. "Don't call gay" laws, The 2022 legislation would have banned classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary grades and was supported by DeSantis, who recently used Disney as a punching bag in speeches on the campaign trail. suspended his campaign For the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

Disney supporters ran the district for more than five decades after the legislature created it in 1967, providing municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control.

Winsor, who was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump in 2019, said in her ruling that Disney did not have the authority to sue the governor because DeSantis had already chosen the appointees to the governing district's board.

The judge wrote, "Since Disney seeks injunctive relief, it must allege imminent future injury... and it has not alleged facts showing that any imminent future appointments will contribute to its injury."

In dismissing claims against DeSantis appointees to the district's board, Winsor wrote that when a law is constitutional on its face, plaintiffs cannot independently bring claims to challenge it because they believe it to be constitutional. ​That lawmakers acted with unconstitutional motives. The law that redesignated Disney World's district did not exclude Disney by name, he said, but instead included special districts created before the ratification of the Florida Constitution, which included the Disney district and certain other districts.

"Here, similarly, no one reading the text of the challenged statutes would believe that they are directed against Disney," the judge wrote. "The statute does not mention Disney."

Martin Garcia, chairman of the redrawn district appointed by DeSantis, called the lawsuit a distraction. He said now that it is behind them, board members can focus on making appropriate changes to the district's operations to promote transparency and accountability while bringing more prosperity to more people in Florida.

Disney said the case was too important to end, given its serious implications for the rule of law.

"If unchallenged, it will set a dangerous precedent and give states license to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints with which they disagree," Disney said in a statement. "

The governor's press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, said the judge's ruling supported DeSantis' belief that Disney does not have the right to have its own "own special government."

"The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are gone," Redfern said.

Early last year, before control of the district passed from Disney affiliates to DeSantis appointees, Disney supporters on Disney's board reached an agreement with Disney to transfer control of design and construction at Disney World to the company. Put signature on. new desantis appointee Claimed that an "eleventh hour deal" had usurped his powers, And the district sued the company in state court in Orlando to void the contract.

Disney has filed a counterclaim that includes asking a state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable.

Since the takeover of the district by DeSantis appointees, about 50 of its 370 employees have left, a lot of people are complaining That the district has been politicized and the background of the five DeSantis appointments has been a distraction.

Disney, which employs more than 75,000 workers in Central Florida, has said it plans to invest $17 billion in Disney World over the next decade, creating an additional 13,000 jobs.

But Disney CEO Bob Iger described actions taken by DeSantis and the Florida Legislature last year as "Anti-business" and "anti-Florida." Last year, Disney canceled plans to build new campus 2,000 workers relocated to Central Florida and from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development after a year of attacks by DeSantis and Republican lawmakers.


Follow Mike Schneider on X: @MikeSchneiderAP,

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