Disney drops all but free speech claim in political retaliation suit against DeSantis

Disney drops all but free speech claim in political retaliation suit against DeSantis

Disney on Thursday amended its federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to focus solely on its First Amendment claim that the governor politically retaliated against the company.

Disney last week had asked to drop its other claims in the case, which concern a dispute over Walt Disney World’s development contracts, because they are being actively pursued in a separate state-level lawsuit in Florida.

“We will continue to fight vigorously to defend these contracts, because these agreements will determine whether or not Disney can invest billions of dollars and generate thousands of new jobs in Florida,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

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The revision, which nixes four claims Disney had previously presented in the case, shrinks the company’s federal civil complaint to 48 pages, down from 84 in the prior version.

Disney had already amended its lawsuit once in May to accuse DeSantis and his allies of doubling down on their attacks.

The second amended complaint filed Thursday afternoon is the latest legal wrinkle in Disney’s two lawsuits stemming from its protracted battle with DeSantis that began last year, when the company publicly denounced the controversial classroom bill dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.

DeSantis has leaned into culture-war battles as governor and on the campaign trail, as he seeks the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He has tarred Disney with the politically loaded term “woke” and accused the company of “sexualizing children” — a claim Disney CEO Bob Iger called “preposterous and inaccurate.”

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After Disney came out against the bill, which limits classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, DeSantis and his allies targeted the special tax district that had allowed Disney to effectively self-govern its Orlando-area theme parks for decades.

The governor signed measures changing the district’s name — from Reedy Creek Improvement District to Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — and replacing its five-member board of supervisors with his own picks.

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Before the new board took charge, Disney crafted development contracts that it said were intended to secure its future investments in Florida. In April, the DeSantis board voted to nullify those contracts, prompting Disney to file its federal lawsuit.

The board countersued in state court in Orange County days later.

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Following Disney’s latest amendment to its federal complaint, the board said it was “pleased that Disney backtracked on these legal claims against the district in their federal case.”

“Disney’s latest legal move puts them in line with the position of what the district has been advocating for months now: that these matters should be decided in state court. We hope this helps expedite justice for the people of Florida,” said Alexei Woltornist, a spokesman for the district, in a statement to CNBC.

In the state-level case, Disney has filed counterclaims — including a breach of contract claim — and is seeking damages against the board. Earlier Thursday, the board asked that court to dismiss Disney’s counterclaims.