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Disney is allowed to pause its federal lawsuit against DeSantis as part of a settlement deal

Disney World Magic Kingdom Castle
Allison Varney
via WMFE

An appellate court has granted Disney’s request for a two-month pause in its federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and his appointees to Walt Disney World’s governing district.

An appellate court on Monday granted Disney’s request for a two-month pause in a federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his appointees to Walt Disney World’s governing district after the two sides reached a settlement on separate litigation in state court.

Disney’s request last Friday to the federal appellate court was motivated by last month’s settlement deal involving two Florida lawsuits between Disney and the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. After DeSantis took over the theme park’s governing board, the company and the district began fighting in state court over how Disney World will be developed in the future.

As part of the settlement, Disney agreed to pause the separate federal lawsuit, which is being appealed, pending negotiations on a new development agreement with the DeSantis appointees. The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among other things, and was controlled by Disney supporters for most of its five decades until the DeSantis appointees took it over last year.

Disney had a deadline of next week to file an opening brief in its appeal to the federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but that deadline is now set for mid-June.

The settlement deal halted almost two years of litigation that was sparked by DeSantis’ takeover of the district from Disney supporters following the company’s opposition to Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law.

The 2022 law banned classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades and was championed by the Republican governor, who used Disney as a punching bag in speeches while running for president earlier this year. He has since dropped out of the race.

As punishment for Disney’s opposition to the controversial law, DeSantis took over the governing district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of supervisors. Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, claiming the company’s free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the legislation. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in January, but Disney appealed.

Before it was filled with DeSantis appointees early last year, the board — then composed of Disney supporters — agreed to give Disney control of Disney World's design and construction. The new DeSantis appointees claimed the “eleventh-hour deals” neutered their powers and the district sued the company in state court in Orlando to have the contracts voided.

Disney filed counterclaims and asked the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable.

Under the settlement, the development agreement and covenants giving Disney design and construction control would be considered null and void, and the new board agreed to operate under a master plan that had been in effect before DeSantis took over the district.