A Delaware judge ruled that The Walt Disney Company did not act negligently when speaking out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill last year, Reuters reports.
Simeone v. Disney
In December 2022, Disney investor Kenneth Simeone sued the company for creating “far-reaching financial risks” by criticizing what is colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Simeone demanded to see internal records from the company which surrounded their response to the bill, stating, “The financial repercussions from Disney’s actions, and resulting harm to the company and its stockholders, have been swift and severe.” He argued Disney ignored warnings from the Governor that opposing the law publicly could have severe consequences.
Judge Lori Will of Delaware’s Court of Chancery ruled in Disney’s favor in the lawsuit, meaning the company will not have to turn over any internal records.
Will said that there is no evidence that executives were “grossly negligent or acted in bad faith” or that they “suffered from disabling conflicts” in regards to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill response.
Will also concluded that the lawsuit was benefitting the Thomas More Society, a conservative non-profit law firm that was paying Simeone’s legal costs. Simeone’s lawyer, Paul Jonna, is a special counsel for the Thomas More Society.
“The plaintiff’s counsel and the Thomas More Society are entitled to their beliefs,” Will wrote in the decision. “But a Section 220 suit, which is designed to address the plaintiff’s interests as a stockholder, is not a vehicle to advance them.”
Simeone, Jonna, and Disney did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comments.
A History of the Disney Company-DeSantis Feud
The Florida Governor and Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.
Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from Cast Members, the LGBTQ+ community, and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.
In an apparent act of retribution over Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking an incredibly vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” allegedly invading the state — frequently stating his intention to put the people of Florida first through these actions and the newly-formed CFTOD board:
Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.
Every member of this governing body has been a handpicked ally of the Governor thus far, including a Christian nationalist and lawyer who donated $50,000 to the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, among others. In May, an administrator for the district (Glen Gilzean) was also appointed, with a significantly increased $400,000 salary directly related to ongoing DeSantis-led legal fights regarding Disney and several other issues around the state. The legal expenditures made by the Governor are being funded by Florida taxpayers.
Critics worry the role and its new incumbent could be weaponized for further orchestrated attacks, fines, and intentionally disruptive impediments on Walt Disney World, and that Gilzean himself is essentially receiving compensation to be aligned with the Governor’s whims. Daniel Langley, special general council for the district, alternatively describes the Administrator as “another tool in the toolbox for enforcement.”
Currently, Gilzean is the Chair of Florida’s Commission on Ethics, a position Governor DeSantis appointed him to. The Commission “renders legally binding advisory opinions interpreting the ethics laws and implements the State’s financial disclosure laws.” Recently, it rejected a complaint from the MAGA Inc. Super PAC backing Donald Trump, which claimed DeSantis was violating campaign finance laws and running a “shadow” campaign for President (via AP News).
After heated exchanges and dramatic actions taken by the Governor alleged to be intentionally harmful punishments, The Walt Disney Company sued him and his newly handpicked board not long after Bob Iger’s return as CEO, citing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.
Disney regrets that it has come to this, but having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.
DeSantis insists he will double down on efforts to punish the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to raise hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property, and suggested the idea of building a prison on space directly beside Disney land. Additionally, a bill was passed mandating state inspections of the resort’s monorails.
There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.