Disney Turns Its Billion Dollar Florida Investment Back Into This Pumpkin
In March of 2023, the Walt Disney Company and Florida's bigoted governor managed to make the Rule Against Perpetuities trend on Twitter. For one shining moment, lawyers could trot out this relic of property law arcana to explain how Mickey Mouse had just spanked Ron DeSantis via a contract tied to the grandchildren of Britannia's newly coronated king. It was a glorious time!
It seems impossible to top that insanity, although Governor Ron DeSantis is laboring under the delusion that he can win the 2024 Republican presidential primary by finding ways to be even more odious than Donald Trump, so ... who knows? But, this week there were two funny developments in the ongoing fucktussle between DeSantis and The Mouse.
Yesterday Disney announced that it was scrapping plans to build a $1 billion office complex in Orlando that would have relocated some 2,000 employees from Southern California, including much of the Imagineering department, which designs theme park attractions. The New York Times, which first reported the story, suggests that the reversal is a result of some combination of two factors: 1) Florida's unstable business environment, where the governor threatens to build a state prison next to an amusement park as retribution for protected First Amendment speech he does not like; and 2) un-retired CEO Bob Iger's efforts to walk back changes made by interregnum CEO Bob Chapek.
DeSantis's press people responded with their usual grace and aplomb, snarking, "Given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap, and declining stock price, it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures.”
So far, so hilarious. But there is also action this week on the legal front in the war launched by Ron DeSanctimonious in 2022 after Chapek had the nerve to offer tepid criticism of Florida's vile "Don't Say Gay" law banning mention of the existence of LGBTQ people in schools and launching a wave of censorship upon fear of litigation.
Last year, after the above mild rebuke, DeSantis noisily promised to get rid of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50-year-old charter entity which allowed the Magic Kingdom to operate as its own inland empire. But the Mouse heard the clomping of DeSantis's white waders a mile off — mostly because DeSantis spent a year shouting into every microphone in the state that he was definitely, 100 percent, yessireebob doing it to punish Disney for its First Amendment-protected speech. So on February 8, at a publicly announced and live-streamed meeting, the Reedy Creek Board signed that "Princess Contract" (our term, not theirs) devolving the bulk of its powers to the Walt Disney Company and depriving the anti-LGBTQ goons DeSantis was nominating the right to hold Belle and Ariel hostage if they didn't lift the skirt of every kid wearing a dress in Cinderella's castle to check for pumpkins.
On February 27, as promised, DeSantis signed HB 9B, dissolving the Reedy Creek District and replacing it with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). And on March 8, a mere four weeks after it had been enacted, the CFTOD Board discovered the Princess Contract and hit the roof.
DeSantis vowed revenge, and got to work with the Legislature to show Mickey who's boss, making sure again to tell everyone he was retaliating against the company for its speech — SO SMRT! Meanwhile the CFTOD Board met on April 26 and voted to cancel the Princess Contract on grounds that it was unlegal, and an hour later Disney challenged HB 9B in federal court, claiming violations of the Contracts Clause, Due Process, and the First Amendment and citing the eleventy-million times that DeSantis and his legislative pals had helpfully admitted that they were taking revenge on Disney for politically protected speech.
On May 1, the CFTOD Board filed its own suit against Disney seeking to get the Princess Contract thrown out, but in state court, because they're crafty like that. And then on May 5, DeSantis and the derp squad passed SB 1604 declaring the Princess Contract null and void — again, accompanied by vociferous affirmation that they really, truly were retaliating against the company for mean words about the governor and his hate laws.
On May 8, Disney amended its federal complaint to add a challenge to SB 1604. The next day, the CFTOD Board amended its state complaint ... sort of.
On May 9, CFTOD filed an amended complaint in this suit that only corrected its signature block. Despite Senate Bill 1604 being signed into law four days prior—the law giving CFTOD the precise relief it requests here—CFTOD added no mention of the law in its amended complaint.
That would be some ice cold lawsnark to cleanse the palate before the righteous smackdown to come in Disney's motion to dismiss the state complaint. Because, as Disney's very good lawyers pointed out, SB 1604 rendered the Princess Contract "void and unenforceable by unequivocal legislative fiat," or at least purported to, making the entire lawsuit moot:
That legislation renders Plaintiff’s complaint moot because it makes any order this Court could issue—in either party’s favor—legally irrelevant. If the Court rejects the board’s claims on their merits and agrees with Disney that the contracts complied with any procedural and substantive requirements of state law, the board would still be prohibited from complying with them under the new state statute. For the same reason, even if the Court found merit in the board’s objections to the contracts, any order to that effect would be pointless because the contracts would already be void under the new state statute. In short, any declaration about the contracts’ enforceability, voidness, or validity—either way—would be an advisory opinion with no real-world consequence. Trial courts in Florida are forbidden from issuing advisory opinions, and this case should be dismissed.
In plain English, there's nothing left for the court to decide, because the CFTOD's lawyers were too stupid to amend their complaint to add SB 1604. And even if they do race into the courthouse this afternoon and fix that omission, under Florida's "principle of priority," state courts are required to refrain from adjudicating claims when the same issue and parties are before another tribunal. So even if Florida Ninth Judicial Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber decides that the state case is somehow not moot thanks to DeSantis's dumb law, she's probably going to have to dismiss it because the issue is already pending before federal Judge Mark Walker in the Northern District of Florida. Well-played, Ron!
In summary and in conclusion, Ron DeSantis, the great white hope of the never Trump Republicans, has once again set a mousetrap and stuck his dick in it.
[NYT / Disney Motion to Dismiss]
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.