Tourism Oversight District vs Disney World Lawsuit Heads to Court Today

At 2pm today, July 14th, the state-level lawsuit against Walt Disney World will be brought to court. The Honorable Margaret H. Schreiber of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida will hear Disney’s Motion to Dismiss in Courtroom 19-B. This is the first in-court action in either of the high-profile lawsuits that Disney is involved in over the former Reedy Creek Improvement District. Let’s go over the details of the case.

Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Background

In order to understand the arguments made in court, we need a little bit of background on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District – formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

“[T]this all started, of course, with our parents’ rights bill”. Those words were uttered on May 5th by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, more than a year after former Disney CEO Bob Chapek fumbled the company’s response to what was then a proposed piece of legislation that critics called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek’s initial instinct was for Disney to not make a statement on the pending legislation. Instead, he sent a company-wide email obtained by that said “Corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds”. In a moment of insightful prediction of the events to come, Chapek wrote on March 7, 2022 that such statements “are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame”.

On March 9th, court records showed that Chapek called DeSantis to “express the Company’s concern”. DeSantis would tell Chapek “It was a mistake for Disney to get involved”, and even said, “It’s not going to work out well for you”.

Three days after sending that initial email explaining why Disney wouldn’t take a stance against the pending legislation, Chapek would send another email apologizing to Disney employees that felt abandoned by the company they loved and worked for. In the March 11th email, Chapek said that Disney would be pausing all political donations in the state of Florida and that they would be “increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states”.

By late March 2022, DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, prompting a response from Disney corporate. In part, Disney’s statement said that “our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts”. This angered DeSantis, who said that the statement from Disney “crossed the line” and he pledged “to make sure we’re fighting back”.

And fight back he did. DeSantis, through a rubber stamp legislature, took aim at the Reedy Creek Improvement District – a special taxing district that was majority inhabited by Disney. The Reedy Creek Improvement District was, essentially, an agreement by the Florida government of the 1960s that allowed Disney to create the infrastructure necessary to form the world’s most popular theme park complex. Over the years, the RCID has been an integral partner with Disney World as the theme park giant invested billions of dollars into the resort.

DeSantis and the Florida Legislature would work in concert, first attempting to dissolve the RCID before finding out that as dissolution of the District would impose $1 billion worth of bonds onto Orange and Osceola County residents. Instead, DeSantis and the Legislature would restructure a bill to make it so that DeSantis would be able to replace the RCID Board of Supervisors with a hand-picked lineup of donors and loyalists.

Development Agreement

While DeSantis and the Legislature were focused on retaliation against Disney, Disney and the RCID Board of Supervisors were focused on ensuring the continuity of land development once DeSantis took over. To that end, the RCID and Disney agreed on a Development Agreement that Disney would have broad land development powers for the next 30 years. DeSantis and the Legislature simply missed the public actions by Disney and the RCID.

Once the hand-selected Board of Supervisors took over and renamed the RCID to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, they found out about the Development Agreement. In a March 29th meeting of the new Board of Supervisors, Board Member Ron Peri lamented that the Development Agreement “essentially makes Disney the government…[the] Board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain to roads and maintain basic infrastructure”.

As it would turn out, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had big plans for development in the CFTOD boundaries and Disney was wise to try and protect against future development that would be out of alignment with the more than 50 years of development so far. In an April 17th press conference, DeSantis suggested building a state park, creating more amusement parks, or even creating a state prison.

CFTOD vs Disney World

It is this Development Agreement that sits at the heart of the lawsuit brought by the CFTOD against Disney. On May 9th, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed a lawsuit in Orange County against Walt Disney World. The lengthy lawsuit ultimately asked for a judge to rule that the Development Agreement was void, unenforceable, or invalid for a number of alleged infirmities.

To be heard today is Disney’s argument that the whole trial is moot. Disney points to Senate Bill 1604 – a narrowly written piece of legislation that essentially targets the CFTOD Development Agreement and renders it null. With the Development Agreement rendered null and void by DeSantis’ legislation, Disney argues that a trial ruling on the validity of the Development Agreement is pointless and moot. That argument will be heard by Judge Schreiber today.

The latest update on the state-level case was a filing from Disney World two weeks ago where they used DeSantis’ words against the CFTOD, showing the governor’s intent with SB1604:

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”.

In the alternative to ruling mootness, Disney is asking the Court to stay the case until the Federal case against Ron DeSantis is over.

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

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