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Disney agrees to settle Florida lawsuit backed by DeSantis

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Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board chairman Martin Garcia, right, delivers remarks as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during a news conference at CFTOD headquarters at Walt Disney World on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 

Joe Burbank | Orlando Sentinel | Getty Images

Disney agreed Wednesday to end litigation in state court involving a Florida special tourism district that the entertainment giant effectively controlled for more than five decades until last year after Gov. Ron DeSantis moved to revoke that status.

The settlement lifts a significant barrier to the continued development of Walt Disney World in the Orlando area and provides for the potential resolution of a related federal case.

The state lawsuit was originally filed in Orange County by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District to void agreements the old district board had signed with Disney right before it was dissolved at DeSantis’ behest after Disney opposed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill backed by the governor.

Disney in turn had asked the court to rule that the agreements, which benefited the company, were valid.

As part of the settlement of that case Wednesday, Disney agreed not to challenge the CFTOD’s determination that the prior agreements with the old Reedy Creek Improvement District were null and void.

The settlement also includes Disney’s agreement to seek permission from a federal appeals court to pause its effort to revive a dismissed retaliation lawsuit against DeSantis in Florida federal court in light of expected negotiations of “among other matters a development agreement” between the company and the district.

That clause suggests that if Disney is satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations, it might drop the federal civil complaint against the Republican governor.

The CFTOD board was scheduled to meet in executive session Wednesday morning to discuss the settlement.

Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle, in a statement, said “We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the State,” Vahle said.

DeSantis is scheduled to give a press conference at 12:15 p.m. ET.

In January, a federal judge dismissed Disney’s lawsuit against the governor, which had claimed he and others retaliated against the company for criticizing a controversial parental rights education law. That law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” limits school classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The judge ruled that Disney lacked legal standing to sue DeSantis on its claim he violated the company’s First Amendment rights by pushing to reform the Reedy Creek Improvement District due to Disney’s opposition to the law.

Disney had appealed the dismissal of the suit.

But in its agreement Wednesday with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, Disney agreed “to seek, and the District will not oppose, permission from the court to defer briefing in Disney’s pending federal appeal … pending negotiations among other matters of a new development agreement between Disney and the District.”



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