Florida judge rules against Disney in feud with DeSantis

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) -A Florida judge on Friday rejected a Walt Disney Co request to dismiss a lawsuit by an oversight district, a move that could make it harder for the entertainment giant to pursue its own case against Governor Ron DeSantis as part of a yearlong feud.

The ruling allows the oversight district to pursue its case that seeks to void “backroom deals” favorable to Disney that were struck with a prior district board earlier this year. If those deals were voided, the district has said it would nearly wipe out Disney’s federal case against DeSantis.

A Disney spokesperson said the decision “has no bearing” on the federal lawsuit seeking to “vindicate Disney’s constitutional rights.”

“We are fully confident Disney will prevail in both the federal and state cases,” the spokesperson said in an email.

A spokesperson for the oversight district declined to comment.

The skirmish began last year after Disney criticized a Florida law banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity with younger children. DeSantis, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, has repeatedly attacked “woke Disney” in public remarks.

DeSantis rallied lawmakers to pass bills that reconstituted the district as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and transferred power over the board to the governor from Disney. Lawmakers also retroactively invalidated agreements that Disney reached with the prior board of what was then the Reedy Creek Improvement District on the eve of it being brought under DeSantis’s control.

Disney filed its lawsuit in April against the governor in federal court, claiming DeSantis “weaponized” state government against the company for attacking the classroom gender discussion law.

Disney asked the federal court to prevent the state from enforcing the laws directed at the company and to reinstate the development agreements favorable to Disney that were struck with the prior district’s board.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Jody Godoy in New York; editing by Deepa Babington, Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)

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