Disney shifts gears in lawsuits against DeSantis and allies

After the setback, Disney changed its legal strategy in Florida, where the company is fighting Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies in court for control of the Disney World growth plan.

Disney, however, is not heeding the recent call of Mr. DeSantis, let “drop the lawsuit.” Instead, she retreated on two fronts on Friday — narrowing the scope of her federal case to focus on the allegation that Mr. DeSantis and his allies violated her First Amendment rights and threatening new lawsuits over access to public records.

Disney and Mr. DeSantis, who is running for president, have been at loggerheads for more than a year over a special tax district covering the Disney world. Mr. DeSantis, angered by Disney’s criticism of Florida’s education law, took over the taxing district, appointed a new board and ended the company’s long-held ability to self-manage its 25,000-acre resort as if it were a district. Before the takeover took effect, however, Disney signed contracts to lock in development plans — worth about $17 billion over the next decade.

The effort by Mr. DeSantis and his allies to overturn the contracts has sparked dueling lawsuits, with Disney suing Mr. DeSantis and the taxing district in federal court and the new appointees firing back in state court.

State Judge Margaret Schreiber dealt Disney an early setback in July. It denied her motion to dismiss the counterclaim ruling that Disney could not close the state case and focus on the overlapping federal one. She also declined to stay the state case until the federal lawsuit is decided.

On August 14, Mr. DeSantis told CNBC that Disney should drop the federal lawsuit. “They’re going to lose,” he said. “Go ahead.”

Instead of backing down, Disney is shifting gears — essentially admitting that it will have to fight two court battles at the same time.

On Friday, the company filed a motion to amend its multipart federal complaint, which is pending before Judge Allen Winsor in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee. The amendment would have removed parts of the complaint that specifically address the validity of the development contracts — which covers the state case — while leaving intact Disney’s central allegation that Mr. DeSantis and his allies violated the company’s First Amendment rights through a “targeted campaign of government retaliation .”

Mr. DeSantis moved to take over the Disney World taxing district after Disney criticized the Parental Education Rights Act, which opponents called “don’t say gay” and which prohibits discussion of students’ sexual orientation and gender identity until third grade. The DeSantis administration later expanded the ban to the 12th degree.

Disney’s motion said it wants to amend the federal complaint “to save the inefficiency of litigating the validity of the contract simultaneously in two forums.”

Later Friday, Judge Winsor denied Disney’s motion to amend the complaint, citing a procedural error. The rules require the company to first consult with the defendants about the change, the judge said. If there is an objection, Disney can resubmit the proposal. If there is no objection, no motion for amendment is necessary.

Disney also revealed on Friday that Mr. DeSantis and six state entities have failed to comply with public records requests made by company attorneys in May as part of the discovery process in the court cases. This week, Disney sent letters to the governor’s office and other state agencies saying the company will sue each under Florida’s public records law unless the requested materials are made available by Sept. 6.

“It has been nearly four months since our request and we have yet to receive any of the requested records or any substantive response confirming the applicable exemptions,” Adam Losey, an Orlando-based attorney who works for Disney, wrote in the letters. he looked at The New York Times.

Disney requested “all documents and communications, including but not limited to text messages, Signal messages and WhatsApp messages on all devices” with the keywords “Disney” or “mouse,” according to the letter.

A spokesman for the governor’s office had no immediate comment.

Elvira Parkinson

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