Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s legal team has argued that he is immune from the federal lawsuit filed by The Walt Disney Co. The lawsuit is in response to DeSantis’s attempt to remove Disney’s control over a special district that includes its theme parks and resort in Florida.
In a motion to dismiss submitted on Monday, the state’s attorneys also contended that the federal district court does not have jurisdiction over the case.
The motion stated, “Although Disney grabbed headlines by suing the Governor, Disney — like many litigants before it who have challenged Florida’s laws — has no basis for doing so. Neither the Governor nor the Secretary [of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity] enforce any of the laws at issue, so Disney lacks standing to sue them.”
The attorneys for the state further described Disney’s lawsuit as “meritless for many reasons,” including the argument that “a special district cannot bind the State to transfer a portion of its sovereign authority to a private entity.”
Disney initiated the lawsuit against DeSantis in April, alleging that the governor violated the company’s First Amendment rights by retaliating against its opposition to a parental rights law, also known as “don’t say gay.” The lawsuit also names the new board of the Reedy Creek special district, renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, as defendants.
In their motion to dismiss, the state’s attorneys claimed that DeSantis is entitled to “absolute legislative immunity” for signing the bill that removed Disney’s control of the Reedy Creek special district. They argued that this immunity applies to the governor regardless of whether his actions were retaliatory.
The state also argued that DeSantis and his Economic Opportunity secretary do not have authority over the new special district board, except for the governor’s power to appoint its members. They also contended that the governor had no authority to enforce Disney’s contracts.
Disney has until late July to file a response. The company did not immediately comment on the motion to dismiss.
Before DeSantis signed the bill that removed Disney’s control over the special district, the Disney-backed members of Reedy Creek passed development agreements to ensure that the company would still have influence over planning decisions and other matters. The state then passed a law prohibiting the DeSantis-controlled special district from complying with these agreements.
After Disney filed the federal lawsuit, the DeSantis-selected special district board filed its own litigation in state court against the company, seeking to have the development agreements declared void and unenforceable.
The special district board suggested that the federal case should be stayed until the state case is resolved. Alternatively, they proposed a dismissal of Disney’s case “due to the forum-selection clause that requires Disney to bring these claims in the circuit court for Orange County, Florida.”