OVERSIGHT DISTRICT FILES BRIEF TO ABSTAIN OR DISMISS DISNEY CASE
Lake Buena Vista, FL: The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), today, filed a reply brief in response to Disney’s federal lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis and the district board. The brief argues that the court should either abstain or entirely dismiss the case. It also highlights the district’s recent success in foiling Disney’s attempt to “frustrate the will of the People of Florida” using nullified development agreements. “The Constitution… does not entitle Disney to a local government that functions essentially as the Company’s wholly owned subsidiary,” the brief contends.
Three highlights from the brief:
1) Federal courts should abstain because this case presents an unsettled question of state law. A state case that confirms the district’s legislative findings that Disney’s actions were void from the beginning would decide or materially alter nearly all of Disney’s federal claims.
“A state-court ruling that the Agreements were void ab initio would decide or—at the very least—’materially alter’ four of Disney’s five claims. If the Agreements are void, Disney’s Contracts Clause claim in Count I would fail because there was no contract. Its Takings claim in Count II would fail because there was no property to be taken. Its Due Process claim in Count III would fail because Disney was not deprived of anything. And its First Amendment retaliation claim in Count IV would fail because Disney suffered no adversity from actions directed at a contract without legal existence.”
2) Disney’s development agreement and restrictive covenants were never valid. In their own filings, Disney admits their own Disney-controlled board did not have any ordinance that established procedures and requirements to consider and enter into a development agreement.
“Disney does not dispute that, when the Development Agreement was entered, RCID lacked an ‘ordinance’ establishing ‘procedures and requirements… to consider and enter into a development agreement.’ Fla. Stat. § 163.3223. Rather, Disney argues that the Development Agreement Act, including § 163.3223, does not apply. If that were so, then RCID lacked any authority whatsoever to enter the Development Agreement (and the Restrictive Covenants that depend on it). The agreement was explicitly ‘entered into pursuant to the authority of the Florida Local Government Development Agreement
Act.’ Doc. 25-1 3. And though the agreement goes on to describe this authority as ‘supplemental’ to RCID’s other authorities, id., the Development Agreement Act was the only source of RCID’s authority to enter development agreements.”
3) Disney’s first amendment claims are meritless. The State of Florida is sovereign. It is the government who determines operations of the representative government, not any one corporation.
“The State of Florida holds the power to determine who will exercise ‘important elective and nonelective positions whose operations go to the heart of representative government.’ Gregory, 501 U.S. at 460 (internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, ‘[t]hrough the structure of its government, and the character of those who exercise government authority, a State defines itself as a sovereign.’ Id. at 463. ‘This rule is no more than a recognition of a State’s constitutional responsibility for the establishment and operation of its own government.’ Id. at 462 (cleaned up). The Speech Clause of the First Amendment does not constrain this exercise of State sovereignty.”
The filing of the reply brief is the district’s latest legal action. The full brief can be found here.
Earlier this year, while Florida’s state legislature was weighing the creation of an independent board to govern the district, the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District signed a development agreement meant to give Disney unchecked authority over the district’s development rights. Shortly thereafter, Governor DeSantis signed into law HB 9-B, which created the CFTOD to finally bring transparency and accountability to the region, which is a vital part of Florida’s economy.
Upon discovering Disney’s development agreement, several media outlets rightly reported that the corporation’s last-minute maneuver was an attempt to subvert democratic processes, and, in turn, further diminish the voice of residents and other constituents. After further inspection, the CFTOD learned that the agreement drafted by Disney and its hand-selected board was legally void from inception. Once this was made public, Disney turned around and sued the governor and the board.
Since assuming control and declaring the development agreement void, the CFTOD and district leadership have continued to oversee the governance of the district. They have taken several actions to bring prosperity to the local community and implement overdue reforms. The board, for example, has enacted much-needed good governance policies, including one to protect whistleblowers. It also recently abolished divisive DEI programs and voted to lower the property tax rate.