After being granted a deadline extension to file their response to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s (CFTOD) motion to dismiss their federal case, The Walt Disney Company has responded to both motions, accusing the parties of taking part in “ongoing constitutional mutiny” and asks the judge to reject the motion.
Disney Files Memorandum in Opposition to State Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
In the filing against DeSantis, Disney says that the Florida Governor “now seeks desperately to avoid any official responsibility” for “orchestrating a secret plan to punish Disney for its comments on public affairs and to exercise continuing control over its entertainment programming.”
Disney asserts that the Governor and the Secretary of Commerce are “proper defendants who can and must be held liable in their official capacities for the executive functions they perform in implementing the State’s anti-Disney speech-control program.”
Disney’s legal team state that DeSantis and his allies “openly reject the foundational First Amendment rule that a state cannot deploy its official powers to punish the expression of disfavored political viewpoints.”
Consistent with that outlook, their motion to dismiss rests explicitly on the premise that states are free to wield the ‘structure and composition’ of representative political institutions as cudgels against those who express opinions not acceptable to the ruling party.
The memorandum further claims that the argument from the State that says “Disney lacks standing to advance its case against the State Defendants in particular” is incorrect, as “Disney’s constitutional injuries are directly traceable to the State Defendants’ executive duties under the challenged laws, and they would be redressed by an order declaring the laws unconstitutional and enjoining Defendants from continuing to implement and enforce them.”
Disney also goes on to argue that their claim is not barred by sovereign or legislative immunity, as DeSantis has previously stated.
The State Defendants’ soveriegn-immunity defenses fail for the same reason their standing objections fail.
As for the legislative immunity, Disney states:
But there should be no misunderstanding: Disney’s claim substantively challenges laws that violate the Constitution and injure Disney, and the Governor’s statements and actions orchestrating the enactment of those laws are absolutely relevant to the merits of that claim, just as the statements and actions of legislative and executive actors are relevant to any otherwise-cognizable claim alleging that a law was enacted for an impermissible purpose.
The memorandum to DeSantis and his legal team concludes with the statement that “The State Defendants’ motion to dismiss should be denied.”
Disney’s Memorandum in Opposition to CFTOD Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
A second memorandum was also filed today by Disney against CFTOD, opening with the statement,
Defendants are right about one thing: this case involves “a frontal assault” on a “bedrock principle of our constitutional order.” […] Governor DeSantis and his allies are engaged in an ongoing consitutional mutiny.
Disney’s legal counsel claims that CFTOD’s motion to dismiss rests upon the same reasons as that of DeSantis, and follows up by saying that “that premise is not just legally unsupported,” but that “it is profoundly un-American.”
Wat Disney Parks and Resorts […] — which has proudly called Florida home for more than 50 years — is an especially prominent target of the State’s attacks on free speech, one with the resources to hold the State accountable for its wrongdoing.
But if the State’s strategy succeeds, Disney will assuredly not be the last entity punished for espousing disfavored viewpoints. If the line is not drawn here, there is no line at all.
The memorandum goes on to give background and the argument for Disney’s request that the motion should be denied, including “Inquiry Into the Challenged Laws’ Motives Is Not Prohibited” and “State Laws Relating to Government Structure Are Not Immune From Constitutional Scrutiny.”
RCID was not an internal bureaucratic agency — it was the poltiical representative of local landowners, who for fifty years had elected the officials charged with regulating the use of their land, just as in most other Florida special districts.
In replacing RCID with a Governor-controlled receivership, the State eliminated landowner voting rights and local accountability of land-use regulators.
The memorandum closes with Disney claiming that “even under Defendants’ view that Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) were functionally equivalent,” that CFTOD doesn’t and can’t show that Disney’s views on the “Don’t Say Gay” act “were in any way relevant to the efficient operation of RCID or the effective development of private property within the District.”
Disney vs. DeSantis & CFTOD
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the 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.
Now-former CEO Bob Chapek initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from Cast Members, the LGBTQ+ community, and controversy over Disney making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.
After Chapek denounced the law, Governor DeSantis moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the attempted dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Ultimately, the District was renamed and DeSantis appointed his own Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors.
DeSantis is attacking what he calls “woke politics” allegedly invading the state — frequently stating his intention to put the people of Florida first through his actions and via the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District:
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.
After the CFTOD Board attempted to declare Disney’s final agreements with RCID null and void, Disney filed a federal lawsuit against the Board and DeSantis, calling their actions a violation of their constitutional rights.
In the lawsuit, Disney cites “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.”
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.
The Board then filed a state lawsuit against Disney and Disney is now countersuing on the state level, arguing that because RCID was never actually dissolved, the CFOTD is essentially the same entity and is going back on their word.