Disney Uses DeSantis’ Words Against Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in State-Level Lawsuit

An unlikely ally has emerged for Disney World in its state-level case against the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). That ally’s name? Ron DeSantis. A new reply from Disney aptly argues that the state-level case should be dismissed as moot or delayed and uses DeSantis’ own words to support their claim. While Disney and DeSantis are certainly far from friends, Disney’s lawyers are using the Governor’s words against the CFTOD in a new response filed late last month. In this article, we’ll explore the latest response from Disney, but we’ll start with a quick recap of the lawsuits to set the stage a bit.

Dueling Lawsuits

There are two high-profile lawsuits currently in the courts that take aim at a Development Agreement that Disney entered into with the previous Board of Supervisors of the then-named Reedy Creek Improvement District.

One lawsuit was filed by Disney World against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) Board of Supervisors, among others. The lawsuit asks a federal court to recognize the Development Agreement as valid and to recognize the series of events and bills that led to the State takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District as a violation of the First Amendment rights of the Company. Ultimately, Disney wants the State takeover of the RCID to be undone.

In a separate lawsuit, the CFTOD is suing Disney World, asking the court to recognize the Development Agreement as null and void, citing a series of contract infirmities.

Legislation Might Over Legal Proceedings

On May 5th, DeSantis decided to get ahead of the pending court cases and simply sign a law to nullify the Development Agreement in what appears to be a flexing of executive might. Instead of relying on the court system to agree with the legal arguments of why the Development Agreement should be nullified, DeSantis signed SB 1604, a land use bill with a narrowly written amendment from Republican legislators to nullify the Development Agreement legislatively.

Following the stroke of the Governor’s pen, Disney World amended its lawsuit to include the bill in its argument against the state.

Disney Asks for Dismissal

Following Governor DeSantis’ actions to use the state legislature to nullify the Development Agreement instead of the courts, Disney asked the state to dismiss the CFTOD case, saying that the lawsuit in state court is moot given the actions of the Governor and rubber-stamp legislature.

CFTOD Calls Disney’s Dismissal “Classic Imagineering”

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District then responded to Disney’s Motion to Dismiss the state-level case against it. In a June 19th Response in Opposition to Disney’s Motion to Dismiss, the CFTOD argues that Disney’s Motion to Dismiss should not be granted by the court, saying that “Disney’s motion is classic Imagineering, inviting the Court to make believe that reality is whatever Disney dreams up”.

In the Response, the District argues that the lawsuit it brought against Disney is not moot. Essentially, the main points of the Response are that Disney is arguing that SB1604 is unconstitutional, thus requiring a Court decision on the Development Agreement, and that Disney did not perfect service on the Board which would be one way to invalidate a “priority principle” that Disney argues in favor of.

The CFTOD says it will ask Judge Margaret H Schreiber for a final summary judgment soon so that it can “get on with the business of government without Disney claiming that the Agreements hamstring the District’s legislative authority”.

Disney Responds in State Case (June 30, 2023)

In the latest update from a June 30th filing, Disney World responded to CFTOD’s Response above. Disney uses multiple quotes from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis against the CFTOD. Yes, Disney is using DeSantis’ own words to support their stance that the state-level case should be dismissed or stayed.

Disney’s main argument in the Motion to Dismiss the state-level case was that Senate Bill 1604 invalidates the Development Agreement at the heart of the state-level case. It’s here that we see Disney use DeSantis’ words against the CFTOD. Disney points to the following quote as evidence that the court cannot rule on SB1604 because it is already void according to the Governor of the state:

The newly appointed CFTOD Board announced that it would not comply with Disney’s contracts because they were void under Florida law. For good measure, the State also enacted a law barring CFTOD from complying with the agreements in any event.

DeSantis’ motion to dismiss federal lawsuit

Disney says that the CFTOD is asking the state to “[d]eclare that [the Contracts are] void, unenforceable, and/or invalid”. Disney notes that the Legislature already did that by passing SB1604. Disney says that “put simply: Senate Bill 1604 has already given CFTOD the result it seeks here, and that is the end of all matters before the Court”.

Disney continues to make further arguments against various claims made by the District, including a claim from the District that Disney did not properly serve the Board members. The claim from the CFTOD was backed up by a signed declaration by Eryka Washington Perry, the Director of Communications for the District. In Perry’s signed declaration, she said she was not authorized to accept service. She also claims that the process server did not ask for the Board of Directors. In an exhibit attached to Disney’s response, the process server said that not only did she follow the norms outlined in her profession and she read off each of the names to be served, but that when she asked Perry if Perry was authorized to receive service, Perry responded: “I should hope so, I am the communications director”.

So, what happens next? The Honorable Margaret H. Schreiber has scheduled a hearing for Friday, July 14th for Disney’s Motion to Dismiss.

As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!

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