After suffering a setback, Disney has shifted its legal strategy in Florida, where the company is fighting Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies in court for control of Disney World’s growth plan.
However, Disney is not responding to Mr. DeSantis’ latest call to “Drop the case“. Instead, she backtracked on Friday on two fronts — narrowing the scope of her federal case to focus on the charge that Mr. DeSantis and his allies violated First Amendment rights, and threatening new allowances for access to public records.
Disney and Mr. DeSantis, who is running for president, have been arguing for more than a year over a special tax zone that includes Disney World. Angered by Disney’s criticism of Florida’s education law, Mr. DeSantis took over the tax district, appointed a new board of directors and ended the company’s long-standing ability to run its 25,000-acre resort like a county. However, before the acquisition could take effect, Disney had signed contracts to secure the development plans – worth about $17 billion over the next decade.
Efforts by Mr. DeSantis and his allies to void the contracts have led to competing lawsuits, with Disney suing Mr. DeSantis and the tax district in federal court, and the new hires firing back in state court.
State Judge Margaret Schreiber delivered an early setback to Disney in July. She denied her motion to dismiss the counterclaim ruling that Disney could not close the state case and focus on the overlapping federal case. It also refused to put the state case on hold until the federal lawsuit is decided.
On August 14, Mr. DeSantis told CNBC that Disney should drop the federal lawsuit. “They will lose,” he added. “Let’s go ahead.”
Rather than back down, Disney is shifting gears, essentially conceding that it will have to fight two legal battles at the same time.
On Friday, the company filed a motion to amend its multipart federal complaint, which is pending before Judge Allen Winsor of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee. The amendment would remove parts of the complaint relating specifically to the validity of development contracts — which the state’s case covers — while leaving Disney’s core accusations that Mr. DeSantis and his allies violated the company’s First Amendment rights through a “targeted campaign” intact. government retaliation.”
Mr. DeSantis moved to seize the tax district at Disney World after Disney criticized the Parental Rights in Education Act, which opponents have called “Don’t Say Gay” and which bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity to students until the third grade in the classroom. DeSantis’ administration later extended the ban to the twelfth grade.
Disney’s motion said it sought to amend the federal complaint “in order to avoid inefficient litigation over the validity of the contract in two forums simultaneously.”
Later on Friday, Judge Winsor denied Disney’s request to amend the complaint, citing a procedural flaw. The judge said the rules required the company to first consult with the defendants about the amendment. If there is an objection, Disney may then reintroduce the proposal. If there is no objection, then no proposal for amendment is needed.
Disney also disclosed on Friday that Mr. DeSantis and six government entities did not comply with public records requests filed by attorneys for the company in May as part of the discovery process in the court cases. Disney this week sent letters to the governor’s office and other government agencies, saying the company will each sue under Florida public records law unless requested materials are provided by Sept. 6.
“It has now been nearly four months since our request, and we have yet to receive any of the requested records or any substantive response confirming valid waivers,” Adam Lucy, an Orlando attorney working for Disney, wrote in the letters, one of which was seen by The New York Times.
Disney required “all documents and communications, including but not limited to text messages, Signal messages, and WhatsApp messages on any devices” with the keywords “Disney” or “mouse,” among many others, according to the letter.
A spokesman for the governor’s office had no immediate comment.