Ron DeSantis-Appointed Board Wants Judge To Toss Disney’s Counterclaims In State Litigation – Deadline

The Ron-DeSantis aligned special district that now oversees Walt Disney World asked a judge to toss out the company’s counterclaims in ongoing state litigation, as the company seeks to enforce a set of development agreements for its Florida property.

The legal team of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, in a filing in state court in Orange County, FL, wrote that the agreements were “null and void under state law.” Read the special district’s filing. Before DeSantis appointees took control of the special district, its board approved the agreements with Disney, ensuring that the company still had autonomy over design and development on its property.

The motion is the latest development in litigation between Disney and DeSantis and his appointees.

In April, Disney filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the DeSantis violated its First Amendment rights when he led an effort to strip the company of control of the special district that has overseen its theme park and resort properties for more than 55 years. Disney claims that DeSantis acted in retaliation for the company’s stance against a parental rights law, known as the “don’t say gay” bill. In late February, DeSantis signed legislation that gave him the power to appoint members to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

After the federal lawsuit was filed, the district’s new board sued Disney in state court, seeking to declare that the development agreements were invalid.

In its state court filings, the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board claimed that improper notice was given before the public meetings in January and February, when the Reedy Creek district gave the greenlight to the Disney development agreements. The DeSantis appointees later claimed that the company was trying to pull a fast one by garnering approvals for the development agreements knowing that it was about to lose control of the special district.

The Central Florida district’s legal team also claimed that there was “no legally sufficient consideration” to support the development agreements. In their filing, they wrote that “to start, a development agreement for Walt Disney World is most unusual because there have been development activities in the area for more than fifty-five years without any development agreement.”

“Although Disney still ‘has plans to continue to develop Walt Disney World,’ it makes no promises to develop anything in exchange for the extensive powers and promises it received from the district,” they wrote. “Rather, in return for the extensive powers and promises Disney gained through the development agreement, all that Disney promised was to demand no more than fair market value for any Disney-owned lands that the district might need to construct the public facilities that Disney may obligate the district to construct pursuant to the development agreement.”

Disney filed its counterclaim to the Central Florida district’s state lawsuit in August, asked the judge to declare the development agreements valid. The company’s legal team contended that the development agreements were approved with proper public notice and that other procedures were followed, with members of the press present for the special district board meetings. 

The company also claimed that the Central Florida district was violating the free speech clause in the Florida constitution.

“The [DeSantis-appointed] district’s retaliatory interference with the contracts, via the legislative declaration and its predicates, has chilled and continues to chill Disney’s protected speech,” the company’s legal team wrote.

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