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DeSantis board hits back at Disney in legal fight


The board picked by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee Walt Disney World’s special tax district asked a state court to dismiss Disney‘s bid to recover damages over a breach of contracts counterclaim.

“All of Disney’s counterclaims fail as a matter of law,” attorneys for the district board wrote in a court filing Wednesday in circuit court in Orange County, Florida.

That’s mainly because Disney’s contracts are “void as a matter of Florida law and therefore have never had any legal force or existence,” the board wrote.

Disney denies that the contracts are void.

The filing came weeks after Disney, the defendant in the state-level case, went on offense and is now seeking damages against the governor’s board members.

Disney is embroiled in two lawsuits stemming from its battle with DeSantis that began last year, when the company publicly denounced the controversial classroom bill dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.

Shortly thereafter, DeSantis, who signed the Republican-backed legislation, targeted the special district that had allowed Disney to effectively self-govern its Orlando-area theme parks for decades. He signed measures changing its name — from Reedy Creek Improvement District to Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — and replacing its five-member board of supervisors with his own picks.

Both lawsuits relate to development deals that Disney says it struck to secure its future investments in Florida “amid a climate of escalating retaliation” by the state government. 

The DeSantis-backed board members had voted to nullify Disney’s contracts after accusing the company of trying to undermine the new board’s authority and sneaking the deals through right before the change in leadership took place.

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Disney sued in federal court, accusing DeSantis of orchestrating a political retaliation campaign against a company over its expression of speech that the governor disliked. Disney asked that court to declare that its contracts remain in effect.

The DeSantis board countersued in Florida state court days later. It argued that Disney lacked authority to enter into the contracts and that the prior board failed to give proper notice that it was crafting them. Disney maintains that it hashed out the deals in public forums in compliance with the law.

Last month, Disney filed counterclaims in that state-level case. The company seeks damages over the board’s alleged breach of its contracts, and it wants the court to order the district to comply with the deals.

Disney’s filing also put forward 12 “affirmative defenses” against the board, including that it lacks standing for its claims.

In another court filing Wednesday, the DeSantis board rejected all of Disney’s affirmative defenses, writing repeatedly that “Disney has unclean hands.”

“Disney is the cause of the Agreements’ invalidity,” the new board wrote, arguing that the company “knew or should have known that the Agreements were fatally defective and is charged with a duty to ascertain their legality.”

Spokesmen for Disney and the new district board did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment on the latest filings.

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