The Walt Disney Company is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state officials, alleging that DeSantis is harming the company’s business operations.
The lawsuit comes after months of Disney and DeSantis sparring over legislation that DeSantis has signed and steps the governor has taken to increase the state’s control over Disney.
“A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit comes after the board that DeSantis appointed to oversee Disney voted Wednesday to void development contracts that Disney made.
Disney said in its complaint that the action from the board was the “latest strike” leading to the lawsuit.
DeSantis signed legislation at the end of February to end Disney’s power over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the 25,000 acres that Disney has owned and self-governed for decades. The law allowed DeSantis to appoint a board consisting of five members to govern the district.
The move came after Disney openly criticized Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents. The law places restrictions on the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public school classes from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Disney said it would work to repeal the law and vowed to “stand up for the rights and safety” for the LGBTQ community.
DeSantis began criticizing Disney soon after the company denounced the legislation, calling it an “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom” that had “extraordinary special privileges.”
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the board that DeSantis created to oversee Disney, was set to take over, but the members said last month the Reedy Creek district signed a last-minute agreement with Disney that gave it developmental authority over the parks.
The agreement led the DeSantis-appointed board to take action to try to declare the agreements void.
“This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” the complaint states. “But the Governor and his allies have made clear that they do not care and will not stop.”
Taryn Fenske, the communications director for DeSantis, told The Hill in a statement that the lawsuit is “another unfortunate attempt” by Disney to try to “undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” Fenske said.
The complaint states that the company “regrets” that it has been forced to turn to legal action but has no other choice. It said it has “exhausted efforts” to find a resolution to the conflict.
The lawsuit asks for the legislation exerting the state government’s power over Disney to be nullified because it was enacted in retaliation for the company exercising its rights to free speech.