Disney’s Florida Legal Battle Continues as Free Speech Lawsuit Gets Dismissed

The Walt Disney Company faced a legal defeat today after its lawsuit alleging retaliation was dismissed in a Florida court. The claim focused on the state’s violation of the company’s First Amendment rights for standing against Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a homophobic law that endangers the human rights of LGBTQIA+ communities and their families.

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After Disney spoke out against the bill, DeSantis and the state of Florida removed Disney’s control of a special district overseeing its Orlando theme park’s day to day operations and infrastructure. The zone is now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which the governor has direct influence over in appointing representatives. This action then sparked Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit.

CNBC reports that Judge Allen Winsor ruled that “Disney lacked legal standing to sue DeSantis and the secretary of Florida’s Commerce Department” and that its claims “fail on the merits against members of the board of a special improvement district in which the company operates its parks and resort.”

CNBC also shared the Walt Disney Company’s response to the lawsuit being dismissed. “This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” a spokesperson said, adding if the ruling were “left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”

As that statement suggests, Disney’s legal battle in Florida is far from over. The company still has another suit in the courts; in December it accused the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District of violating both the state law and constitution when it failed to turn over public records when requested. Disney called for an Orange County court to immediately order the the board to hand over “all outstanding requested records,” and also declared it’s unlawfully holding back documentation.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has publicly supported the legal battles, which began when the company was under the leadership of former CEO Bob Chapek. “The company, while I was gone, decided to take a position against the Don’t Say Gay bill that was moving through the Florida Legislature,” he said in November 2023. “The governor got very, very angry at the company when it took that position and decided to punish the company by basically stripping its rights to a special district around Disney World that had been in place for decades … The question wasn’t even about the [bill, later law]. It was about does a company have a right to free speech. And if it exercises its right to free speech, it should not face retribution.”

io9 will bring you updates on Disney vs. DeSantis as and when they occur.


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