Attorneys for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed that he is immune from The Walt Disney Co.’s federal lawsuit over his effort to strip to the company of control over a special district covering its theme parks and resort in the state.
In a motion to dismiss filed on Monday, attorneys for the state also argued that the federal district court lacks jurisdiction.
“Although Disney grabbed headlines by suing the Governor, Disney — like many litigants before it who have challenged Florida’s laws — has no basis for doing so. Neither the Governor nor the Secretary [of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity] enforce any of the laws at issue, so Disney lacks standing to sue them,” the attorneys wrote in their motion (read it here).
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The state’s attorneys also called the Disney lawsuit “meritless for many reasons,” including that “a special district cannot bind the State to transfer a portion of its sovereign authority to a private entity.”
Disney filed its lawsuit against the governor in April, claiming that he violated the company’s First Amendment rights by retaliating against its opposition to a parental rights law, also known as “don’t say gay.” The company also named as defendants the new DeSantis-selected board of the Reedy Creek special district, which was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
The their motion to dismiss, the state’s attorneys argued that DeSantis is entitled to “absolute legislative immunity” for signing the bill that stripped Disney of control of the Reedy Creek special district. The attorneys claimed that the immunity covered the governor no matter if his actions were retaliatory. The state contended that Disney could not claim that the governor enforces the legislation “because he signed it. When the governor signs a bill, he acts in a legislative, not executive, capacity.”
The state also claimed that DeSantis and his Economic Opportunity secretary do not have power over the new special district board, other than the governor’s ability to appoint its members. And the attorneys also contended that the governor had no authority to enforce Disney’s contracts, in response to the company’s claim that DeSantis also violated the contracts clause of the Constitution.
A Disney spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Shortly before DeSantis signed the bill stripping the company of control over the special district, the Disney-backed members of Reedy Creek passed development agreements that ensured that the company would still have a say over planning decisions and other matters. The state then passed a law prohibiting the DeSantis-controlled special district from complying with the development agreements.
After Disney filed the federal lawsuit, DeSantis-selected special district board filed its own litigation in state court against the company, seeking to have the development agreements declared void and unenforceable.
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