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Disney Seeks to Reframe Lawsuit Against DeSantis to Focus on Free Speech

Disney is seeking to narrow the scope of its federal lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, focusing solely on a free speech claim. The company alleges that the governor retaliated against Disney for publicly opposing a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Disney has requested permission from a federal judge to file an amended complaint that focuses only on the First Amendment claim. Questions about the legality of agreements between Disney and Disney World’s governing district will be addressed in a separate state-court lawsuit.

The agreements shifted control of design and construction at the theme park resort from DeSantis appointees on the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) to Disney. DeSantis’ appointees are now challenging the legality of these agreements in state court. Disney argues that it is facing ongoing injury as a result of the new powers and composition of the CFTOD Board, which it claims are being used to punish the company for its political views. The revised complaint aims to challenge the “unconstitutional weaponization of government” and seeks a declaratory judgment that will allow Disney to operate freely in Florida.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor rejected Disney’s motion to narrow the scope of the lawsuit due to a procedural issue but allowed the company to refile its request. The fate of this federal lawsuit is now interconnected with a state case after Disney filed a counter-claim in response to the state court judge’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit.

The conflict between DeSantis and Disney began when the company publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. In response, DeSantis took over the district and appointed a new board of supervisors. However, the authority of these supervisors was limited by the agreements Disney had with their predecessors. In retaliation, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed legislation to repeal those agreements.

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