DeSantis 'welcomes Disney's surrender' on key lawsuit claims, his lawyers say

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis delivers remarks at the 2023 Christians United for Israel summit on July 17, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia.

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Attorneys for Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that the Florida governor “welcomes Disney‘s surrender” on key allegations in the company’s lawsuit accusing the governor of political retaliation.

Disney has accused DeSantis of working to pass legislation targeting the entertainment giant out of a “desire to punish” the company for speaking out against a controversial classroom bill dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.

But those alleged acts by the governor are “legislative in nature,” and therefore they are protected by “absolute legislative immunity,” the attorneys for DeSantis and another Florida official argued in a new court filing.

The court document came shortly before Disney posted mixed earnings for the fiscal third quarter. A Disney spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the filing.

The state’s attorneys claimed that Disney, in a filing last month, effectively conceded that much of its initial complaint amounted to little more than “a glorified press release.” That’s because Disney “now claims that it is challenging only the Governor’s executive actions,” not his legislative actions, the attorneys for DeSantis argued.

“The Governor welcomes Disney’s surrender on all of its claims challenging his legislative acts,” they wrote, adding that Disney lacks standing to sue DeSantis on its remaining claims.

Their filing Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee is just the latest barb in the long-running feud between Florida’s governor and one of the state’s top employers.

It came in response to Disney’s filing two weeks earlier urging the judge to reject bids by DeSantis and other defendants to dismiss the federal civil case.

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In that filing, Disney said DeSantis’ claims of immunity in the case are “incorrect.”

“Because this suit seeks to enjoin the Governor from performing executive acts, legislative immunity does not protect him from suit,” Disney wrote.

Disney seeks a court order effectively restoring the status quo that existed before DeSantis and his allies targeted the special tax district that has allowed Orlando’s Walt Disney World to self-govern its operations for decades. DeSantis ultimately replaced the district’s board of supervisors with his preferred picks, who voted to nullify development contracts that Disney had crafted shortly before the takeover. Disney was accused of sneaking the deals through in an attempt to thwart the new board’s power, but the company says it was merely securing its long-term business plans for the region.

Disney expanded its lawsuit in May, after DeSantis signed additional legislation to void the development deals.

The board members are also named as defendants in Disney’s lawsuit. In a separate court filing Wednesday afternoon, they argued that the federal court should either abstain or dismiss the case entirely.

DeSantis is a high-profile Republican presidential candidate known for engaging in political fights over hot-button social issues. He has leaned into his fight with Disney on the campaign trail, even as his national poll numbers appear to be trending lower against the top GOP candidate, former President Donald Trump.

Earlier Wednesday, DeSantis suspended Monique Worrell, the state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, accusing her of under-prosecuting criminals in her jurisdiction.

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