Disney, Florida Settle Bitter Legal Dispute Over Disney World District

Walt Disney and appointees of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reached a settlement on Wednesday to resolve a high-profile lawsuit in state court concerning control of the special district encompassing the Walt Disney World theme parks.

Alongside, Disney agreed to postpone briefings in a federal lawsuit it initiated against DeSantis, aiming to negotiate a new development agreement for Walt Disney World, among other matters.

“This agreement marks the beginning of a new phase of constructive engagement with the district’s new leadership,” stated Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle.

The rift between DeSantis and Disney emerged in 2022 when former Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized a state legislative effort dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which sought to limit discussions on sexuality and gender in classrooms. A Florida board appointed by DeSantis to oversee development around Disney’s parks sued the company, alleging biased “backroom deals.”

However, the settlement signals a desire from both sides to move beyond the conflict and restore the historically strong relationship between Disney and state officials, according to David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida.

DeSantis, who previously criticized Disney as “woke,” scaled back public attacks after exiting the presidential race. The settlement suggests a shift in focus towards cooperation rather than confrontation, potentially benefitting Florida’s economy.

Under the terms of the settlement, Disney agreed not to contest the oversight board’s determination that the previous land use plan adopted by the board is invalid, leaving a 2020 plan as the operative blueprint. Disney also dropped a lawsuit regarding access to public records.

The agreement received approval from members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, signaling a commitment to collaborative governance in the region.

In the federal lawsuit, Disney accused DeSantis of “weaponizing” government against the company for exercising free speech rights. While a judge dismissed the lawsuit in January, Disney’s appeal is now on hold as discussions between the parties continue.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967 to develop Walt Disney World, saw Disney shares rise by 0.9% to close at $120.98 on the New York Stock Exchange following news of the settlement.