Disney filed an appeal Thursday of a federal judge’s ruling that dismissed the company’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and board members he appointed to manage a planning district Disney once operated in the state.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Wednesday tossed out Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis over the loss of a long-standing planning district, ruling that Disney lacked standing to bring the suit.
Winsor said Disney’s claims of injury resulting from the appointment of board members to a new district created by Florida lawmakers was ‘in the past.’
Disney also failed to show damages from specific actions the new board has taken or will take because of the governor’s alleged control of it, Winsor wrote.
‘In fact, Disney has not alleged any specific injury from any board action,’ Winsor said.
Winsor was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2018 and was sworn in in 2019.
A Disney spokesperson said in a statement following the ruling:
“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here. If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis said in a statement:
‘As stated by Governor DeSantis when he signed HB 9-B, the Corporate Kingdom is over. The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone. The federal court’s decision made it clear that Governor DeSantis was correct: Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government. In short — as long predicted, case dismissed.’
The origins of the suit lie in the battle over the passage of a bill, which DeSantis signed into law in summer 2022, that limited discussion of gender and sexuality in schools. Dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by opponents, the bill restricted teaching those subjects to fourth grade and above.
Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek came out against the bill following vocal opposition on social media from Disney employees.
In response, Florida state lawmakers began taking steps to dismantle what was then known as Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, the planning area it had maintained de facto control over since the late-1960s. That control allowed the company to make building and infrastructure changes in and around Walt Disney World.
Last February, the Legislature effectively stripped away Disney’s control over Reedy Creek, renaming it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and appointing five officials backed by DeSantis to serve on a newly created board.
Disney sued, claiming DeSantis and the Legislature had dissolved Reedy Creek in retaliation for and in violation of the company’s First Amendment rights. It alleged in a separate lawsuit that the new Oversight District was failing to properly preserve records.
In December, The Associated Press reported that about 50 out of 370 employees had left the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since it its takeover, ‘raising concerns that decades of institutional knowledge are departing with them, along with a reputation for a well-run government.’
CORRECTION (Jan. 31, 2024, 5:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated what grades are covered by the law limiting discussion of gender and sexuality in schools. It restricts teaching those subjects to fourth grade and above, not third grade. It also misstated the court the judge serves on. He is a U.S. district judge, not a state judge.