Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally on June 26, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images
Attorneys for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday asked a federal court to dismiss Disney‘s lawsuit that alleges political retaliation against the company, arguing that he and at least one other defendant are “immune” and that Disney lacks standing to sue them.
The attorneys also argued that Disney’s complaint — that DeSantis targeted the company after it denounced the controversial state classroom bill derided as “Don’t Say Gay” by critics — “fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted.”
A spokesman for Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the court filing.
The governor’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit comes as he has leaned into his drawn-out battle with Disney while campaigning in the Republican presidential primary. The fight between DeSantis, the top GOP contender behind former President Donald Trump, and Disney, one of Florida’s top employers, has been brewing for well over a year.
The 27-page motion to dismiss was filed by attorneys for DeSantis and Meredith Ivey, named as secretary for Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
“Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor and Secretary, who are also immune from suit,” they argued in a filing in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.
The entertainment giant’s lawsuit centers on the special tax district encompassing Florida’s Walt Disney World, which for decades allowed the company to essentially self-govern its operations there. After Disney criticized the Republican-backed classroom bill, DeSantis and his allies moved to dissolve that special tax district.
The district, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was ultimately left intact, following fears that neighboring counties would be saddled with debt if it were dissolved. But it was renamed as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and its five-member board was replaced with DeSantis’ preferred candidates.
Disney struck development deals before those new board members took over. The new board members accused the company of thwarting their power and voted to void the contracts, prompting the company to sue.
The governor’s attorneys argued in Monday’s filing that “any alleged injuries that might flow from” the clashes over the district and the contracts “are not traceable to the State Defendants, and enjoining the State Defendants would not provide Disney relief.”
Neither DeSantis nor Ivey enforce any of the legislative acts at issue in the suit, the attorneys wrote, and Disney’s attempts to link them to those laws “are unpersuasive.”
“Signing a law is not ‘enforcing’ a law,” they argued, adding that “Disney’s claims against the Governor run square into his legislative immunity” and its “allegations of retaliatory intent do not change the analysis.”
Disney filed its First Amendment lawsuit in federal court in late April. Days later, the DeSantis-appointed board countersued in state court. Disney filed a bid in May to dismiss that state-level suit.
The board responded in opposition in a filing dated June 19, writing, “Disney’s motion is classic Imagineering, inviting the Court to make believe that reality is whatever Disney dreams up.”