Disney Caves to DeSantis, Settles in Years Long Legal Battle

The years-long battle between the Walt Disney Company and Governor Ron DeSantis is finally ending, with the entertainment conglomerate agreeing Wednesday to drop its lawsuits against the state. The Disney Company and members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) agreed to the settlement in state court, granting Disney a pathway to more than $17 billion in development near their Orlando park, in exchange for ending nearly two years of litigation.

The agreement also formally ends Disney’s fight to retain its self-governing powers in the special tax district, which Governor DeSantis revoked in April 2022. The takeover was sparked by the company’s opposition to the 2022 Parental Rights in Education bill, which blocks classroom instruction on gender and sexuality in early elementary school.

In April 2023, Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, claiming the company had been “retaliated” against for using its First Amendment rights. Federal Judge Allen Winsor threw The suit out in January of this year. The company later filed an appeal.

In addition to suspending its ‘free speech’ case, the company also agreed to drop the public records request lawsuit it filed against the CFTOD last year.

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Following the settlement, the President of Walt Disney World, Jeff Vahle, stated that his company was satisfied with the outcome.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state,” Vahle’s statement said.

DeSantis Communications Director Bryan Griffin also issued a statement, championing the settlement as a win for Floridians.

“We are glad that Disney has dropped its lawsuits against the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and conceded that their last-minute development agreements are null, void, and unenforceable. No corporation should be its own government. Moving forward, we stand ready to work with Disney and the District to help promote economic growth, family-friendly tourism, and accountable government in Central Florida.” ~ Bryan Griffin

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Before the dissolution of Disney’s self-governing district, board members signed agreements with the company to turn over control over the theme park’s construction and design decisions. The new DeSantis-appointed board members described the agreements as “eleventh-hour deals” to prevent government accountability and promptly sued the Disney company.

At a press conference following Wednesday’s settlement, DeSantis touted his victory over the entertainment conglomerate. “A year ago, people were trying to act like all these legal maneuvers were all going to succeed, and the reality is here we are a year later, not one of them has succeeded,” DeSantis told reporters in Orlando, according to a report by the New York Post.

“Every action that we’ve taken has been upheld in full, and the state is better off for it.”

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