Florida board picked by DeSantis to countersue Disney


By Dawn Chmielewski

(Reuters) -An oversight board appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday said it would file a countersuit against Walt Disney Co in state court, according to prepared remarks seen by Reuters.

The decision, which further escalates tensions between Disney and the state of Florida, comes in response to a lawsuit Disney filed last week in federal district court against DeSantis and members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight district board.

“Since Disney sued us, we have no choice now but to respond,” Chairman Martin Garcia said. 

The skirmish began last year after Disney criticized a Florida measure banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity with younger children. DeSantis, a Republican, repeatedly attacked “woke Disney” in public remarks.


Florida lawmakers passed legislation that ended Disney’s virtual autonomy in central Florida where the Disney World theme parks attract millions of visitors each year.

In its lawsuit, Disney accused DeSantis and his supporters of illegally using the state government to punish a company for voicing an opinion that should be protected by free-speech rights.

The company also took issue with the DeSantis-appointed board’s assessment that development contracts Disney reached with its predecessors, which laid the foundation for billions of future Disney investment in its Walt Disney World resort, were “void.”

“The government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” Disney asserted in its legal filing.

Martin said the oversight board had no role in enacting the legislation that Disney “has been complaining about,” but is merely following the laws enacted by the Florida legislature.

The oversight board’s actions, Martin said, were taken to promote the public good.

“The district will seek justice in state court here in central Florida where both it and Disney reside and do business,” Martin said.

DeSantis’ clash with Disney has been a centerpiece of his speeches as he toured the United States ahead of his expected presidential bid. But as the battle has intensified, it has brought mounting political risk.

Former President Donald Trump, the favorite for the Republican nomination, has slammed DeSantis’ stance, saying on social media that the governor “is being destroyed by Disney” and warning that the company would reduce its investments in Florida.

The dispute even earned a mention during Saturday’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner, with Democratic President Joe Biden joking that he had DeSantis jokes prepared, but “Mickey Mouse beat the hell out of me” and got there first.

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Editing by Mark Porter and Jonathan Oatis)