Disney agrees to settle Florida lawsuit with a special district backed by DeSantis

Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board Chairman Martin Garcia (right) delivers a speech as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis listens during a press conference at the CFTOD headquarters at Walt Disney World on Thursday, February 22, 2024, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida .

Joe Burbank | Orlando Sentinel | Getty Images

Disney agreed Wednesday to end litigation in state court related to a Florida special court tourism District that the entertainment giant effectively controlled for more than five decades until Gov. Ron DeSantis moved to revoke that status last year.

The settlement removes a significant obstacle to the continued development of Walt Disney World in the Orlando area and allows for the possible resolution of a related federal lawsuit.

The state lawsuit was originally filed in Orange County by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District to overturn agreements the old county board signed with Disney shortly before it was dissolved at DeSantis’ behest after Disney opposed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay.” The governor had pronounced the law.

Disney, in turn, had asked the court to rule that the agreements that benefited the company were valid.

As part of the settlement of that case, Disney agreed Wednesday not to challenge the CFTOD’s determination that the previous agreements with the old Reedy Creek Improvement District were null and void.

The settlement also includes Disney’s agreement to seek permission from a federal appeals court to pause its efforts to reopen a dismissed retaliation lawsuit against DeSantis in Florida federal court in light of expected negotiations “of, among other things, a development agreement” between the company and the county.

That clause suggests that if Disney is satisfied with the outcome of negotiations, it could drop the federal civil lawsuit against the Republican governor.

The CFTOD board was scheduled to meet in executive session Wednesday morning to discuss the settlement.

Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World, said in a statement: “We are pleased to resolve all litigation pending in Florida state court between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”

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

In January, a federal judge dismissed Disney’s lawsuit against the governor, which alleged he and others retaliated against the company for criticizing a controversial parental rights education law. This law, called “Don’t Say Gay,” restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in school classrooms.

The judge ruled that Disney did not have standing to sue DeSantis over his claim that he violated the company’s First Amendment rights by pushing for a change to the Reedy Creek Improvement District because Disney opposed the law.

Disney appealed the dismissal of this lawsuit.

But in its Wednesday agreement with the CFTOD, Disney agreed to “seek the court’s permission and the District will not object to delaying notice of Disney’s pending federal appeals … pending, among other things, negotiations on a new development agreement between Disney and ….” .” the quarter.”

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