Is Disney’s Magical Kingdom at War with the Florida Governor?

Have you ever imagined Disney, the enchanting world of magic and fantasy, embroiled in a bitter feud with a state governor? 

It sounds like something out of a fairy tale gone wrong, but this clash is all too real. 

In this post, we will talk about the legal battle that has captured national attention and put two powerful entities on a collision course. We will divide this legal drama into three phases with each emphasizing a significant event.

At stake are not only the principles they hold dear but also the control and future of one of the world’s most iconic entertainment destinations.

We will delve into the intense legal dispute between Disney and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, unraveling the complexities and consequences of this high-stakes confrontation.

The Beginning: A Legal Battle Between Florida Governor and Disney

It all started when the Florida Senate passed the controversial Parental Rights in Education bill on March 8, 2022.

The legislation is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. This bill forbids discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in certain elementary school grades.

As a result, Disney’s former CEO Bob Chapek then stated that he signed the Human Rights Campaign’s statement against Florida’s contentious Parental Rights in Education bill during a shareholder call the following day.

In response to the passing of the Parental Rights in Education bill, Chapek declared that Disney will halt all political donations in Florida.

Nevertheless, Governor DeSantis has pushed on signing the new law on March 28, 2022.

“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said before he signed the bill into law.


Legal Battle Intensifies: Republican Leader Clashes with Disney Over LGBTQ Law Concerns

Despite the ongoing dispute, the Republican leader persists in his confrontational approach towards the company that expressed concerns about an anti-LGBTQ law in Florida.

In the 1960s, Disney made its home in Florida and established its own self-governing system, taking responsibility for essential services like fire safety, roads, and water

However, on April 19, 2022, Governor DeSantis made a distressing announcement. 

He informed the people of Florida that the special districts created before 1968, including the Walt Disney World Resort, would be subject to evaluation during a special session of the legislature.

Merely two days later, following the governor’s decision, the Florida legislature cast its vote, leading to the decision to abolish Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Governor DeSantis ultimately signed the bill, resulting in the dissolution of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. This law will come into effect in June 2023, impacting the district and its operations.

READ: DeSantis signs bill to dissolve Disney’s self-governing power

Phase 1: The Battle for Control – Disney’s Last-Minute Maneuver

Moving ahead to February 8, 2023, a significant development unfolded as the State House committee approved modifications to Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Under the new legislation, the district’s name would be changed to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, signifying a shift in its purpose and focus.

Furthermore, the bill grants Governor DeSantis the power to appoint a five-member Board of Supervisors responsible for overseeing and directing the district’s activities.

While the Florida House was busy passing this legislation, the existing members of Reedy Creek’s board entered into a development agreement with Disney, granting the company extensive developmental authority over its territory for the next three decades.

Shortly thereafter, state lawmakers officially passed the bill, transferring control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District away from Disney.

In response, Walt Disney World expressed its willingness to accept these changes without resistance, allowing Governor Ron DeSantis to assume control of its Board of Supervisors.

However, it later came to light that Disney had managed to push through an agreement at the last minute, significantly limiting the authority of the new supervisors. 

This agreement also included provisions granting Disney the final decision-making power regarding any alterations made to the property.

READ: Disney handicapped new Reedy Creek board before handing over control

Phase 2: Legal Battle – Governor Takes Action 

In a meeting held on March 30, 2023, the newly formed Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board shared a troubling discovery. 

They revealed that during the final days of Disney’s control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s board, the company’s executives and attorneys devised a method to remove the most important oversight powers from the incoming state-appointed board before handing over control.

Just four days later, in response to these revelations, Governor DeSantis took action by ordering an investigation into the former board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

With the welfare of the district in mind, the new board member decided to invalidate the agreement that granted Disney authority over design and construction choices concerning its properties.

Governor DeSantis emphasized that forthcoming legislation is being prepared to nullify a development agreement that was passed by the Reedy Creek board before the state assumed control, aiming to address the situation appropriately.

READ: DeSantis calls for investigation into former Reedy Creek board

Phase 3: Economic Impact at Stake – Disney’s Lawsuit Cites Billions in Investments and Job Opportunities

On April 26, 2023, Disney took the difficult step of filing a lawsuit against Governor DeSantis, alleging that the governor’s actions amounted to a targeted campaign of government retaliation against the company due to political differences.

In their legal submission, Disney stated that the newly established board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District had made attempts to invalidate development contracts that were publicly announced and legally binding. 

These contracts played a pivotal role in attracting billions of dollars in investments from Disney and providing employment opportunities for thousands of individuals.

Seeking a resolution, Disney requested the court’s intervention to overturn the state’s efforts to exert control over Disney World.

Unfortunately, in response to Disney’s lawsuit, the chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board felt compelled to initiate a counter-lawsuit against Disney in state court. Chairman Martin Garcia expressed the board’s regret, stating that they had no choice but to respond after Disney took legal action.

Regrettably, on May 18, 2023, the Walt Disney Company announced that it would no longer proceed with its plans to establish a $1 billion campus in Orlando’s Lake Nona development. This decision reflects the challenging circumstances arising from the ongoing dispute.

READ: Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida

What will happen next?

While DeSantis and Disney have not yet faced off in court, the judge will be U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee who has struck down several laws that defined DeSantis’ conservative political agenda. 

Judge Walker has said that “Florida has become a place where the First Amendment allows, rather than prevents, the state to limit speech.

What has this legal battle taught us?

If DeSantis is allowed to make this move there will be more state-sponsored abuses against free speech and other rights 

Disney brings the state a lot of money and 70,000 people could be without jobs if Florida chose to close or move.

Mega Corporations like Disney should consider each decision carefully. Disney’s every action is being watched by other smaller enterprises. 

Whatever happens, will have an impact on smaller enterprises since they may not have the resources to fight back if the state takes action against them for having their own opinions.

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