Settlement reached in lawsuit between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ allies

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney reached a settlement agreement Wednesday in a state court fight over how Walt Disney World is developed in the future following the takeover of the theme park resort’s government by the Florida governor.

In a meeting, the members of the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District approved the settlement agreement, ending almost two years of litigation that was sparked by DeSantis’ takeover of the district from Disney supporters following the company’s opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The 2022 law bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades and was championed by the Republican governor, who used Disney as a punching bag in speeches until he suspended his presidential campaign this year.

The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among other things, and was controlled by Disney supporters for most of its five decades.

Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement Wednesday that the company was pleased a settlement had been reached.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state,” Vahle said.

As punishment for Disney’s opposition to the law, DeSantis took over the governing district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of supervisors. Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, claiming the company’s free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the legislation. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in January.

Before control of the district changed hands from Disney allies to DeSantis appointees early last year, the Disney supporters on its board signed agreements with Disney shifting control over design and construction at Disney World to the company. The new DeSantis appointees claimed the “eleventh-hour deals” neutered their powers and the district sued the company in state court in Orlando to have the contracts voided.

Disney filed counterclaims that include asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable.

Under the terms of Wednesday’s settlement agreement, Disney lets stand a determination by the board of DeSantis-appointees that the comprehensive plan approved by the Disney supporters before the takeover are null and void. Disney also agrees that a development agreement and restrictive covenants passed before the takeover are also not valid, according to the settlement terms.

Instead, a comprehensive plan from 2020 will be used with the new board able to make changes to it, and the agreement suggests Disney and the new board will negotiate a new development agreement in the near future.

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Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

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