Combination of Disney CEO Bog Iger (L), and Governor Ron DeSantis.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Disney has filed counterclaims, including a breach of contracts claim, against the board of supervisors picked by DeSantis to oversee Walt Disney World’s special tax district, a Thursday court filing shows.
The company seeks damages over the alleged breach, as well as a court order for the district to comply with development contracts that are at the heart of the legal fight between Disney and DeSantis.
Disney’s requests came in a 55-page filing denying the district board’s allegations in its state-level lawsuit against the entertainment giant. Disney’s filing also put forward 12 “affirmative defenses” against the board, including that it lacks standing for its claims.
Spokespeople for the board and Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Disney is suing DeSantis and his hand-picked board members in a related federal lawsuit accusing the governor of political retaliation after the company denounced the controversial classroom bill dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.
DeSantis and his allies targeted the special tax district, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, that has allowed Florida’s Walt Disney World to self-govern its operations since the 1960s. The governor effectively took over the district, replacing its five-member board with his preferred picks and changing its name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, or CFTOD.
Before that board took charge, Disney crafted development deals that it says were intended to secure its investments in Florida “amid a climate of escalating retaliation” by the state government. The new board, claiming that the company snuck the contracts through to undermine its power, voted to nullify them, prompting Disney to sue.
Days later, the DeSantis board counter-sued in the 9th Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County, Florida, arguing that Disney lacked authority to enter into the contracts and that the prior board failed to give proper notice that it was crafting them.
On Wednesday, the board asked a judge in the state case to rule in its favor without going to trial on five of its nine counts against Disney.
The knotty legal battle is playing out in two different courtrooms with no indication of ending anytime soon. Disney last month lost a bid to dismiss the state-level case, and similar attempts by DeSantis and the CFTOD board to dismiss the federal case have yet to be ruled on.
But DeSantis, who is struggling to catch up with former President Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary race, has signaled he wants the fight to end.
In a CNBC interview Monday, DeSantis urged Disney CEO Bob Iger to drop the lawsuit, claiming that the company is “going to lose” and adding that he and his allies have “basically moved on.”
DeSantis, whose willingness to take drastic action on politically charged social issues helped him rapidly rise to national prominence, has often brought up his fight with Disney on the campaign trail. He has attacked the company for embracing issues he deems “woke” and has accused the company of sexualizing children — a claim Iger has called “preposterous.”