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Disney and DeSantis-appointed Florida oversight board settle lawsuit

The Cinderella Castle is seen at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Friday, July 14, 2023, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Disney is asking a Florida judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by Gov. Ron DeSantis' appointees to Disney World's governing district.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

Walt Disney Co. has settled a lawsuit with the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed board that governs the area encompassing Walt Disney World in Florida, drawing to a close an acrimonious battle between the Burbank entertainment giant and the onetime presidential candidate.

The feud began in 2022, when Disney criticized Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" anti-LGBTQ legislation after mounting pressure from its employees. DeSantis struck back against the company by taking over the special district that governs land development in and around the Walt Disney World resort, replacing a board that was essentially controlled by Disney and functioned almost as its own municipal government.

Read more: Everything to know about the Disney and DeSantis feud

The entity, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and populated by DeSantis allies, but in the final hours of the previous board's tenure, Disney executed an agreement that would essentially allow the new district powers over only the most basic infrastructure. The district then filed a lawsuit against Disney in state court to invalidate the deal.

As part of Wednesday's settlement agreement, Disney agreed "not to challenge" the district's assertion that the agreement reached with the previous board was "null and void." The district will review and evaluate a different "2020 Comprehensive Plan" and will do so in consultation with Disney.

Read more: Judge tosses Disney's free speech lawsuit against Ron DeSantis; Disney appeals

Disney also agreed to drop a separate lawsuit it filed in December against the district for alleged noncompliance with Florida's public records laws and will look to defer a briefing in a federal appeal it had filed against DeSantis, "pending negotiations among other matters of a new development agreement between Disney and the district," according to the settlement.

“We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District," Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle said in a statement. "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.”

District Vice Chair Charbel Barakat said in a statement: “The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was created to bring public accountability and transparency to one of Florida’s most important destinations. We’re proud of the landmark work the District has accomplished and look forward to what lies ahead. With this agreement, we’re eager to work with Disney and other businesses within Central Florida to make our destination known for world-class attractions and accountable governance.”

Separately, a federal judge in January tossed Disney's lawsuit against DeSantis and others in Florida, which accused the governor of violating Disney's 1st Amendment rights by retaliating against the company for taking a political stand. Disney appealed the ruling.

DeSantis initially made his fight with Disney a central part of his presidential campaign, though he later tried to publicly distance himself from the debacle as Disney waged an increasingly aggressive legal response. Last summer, he told CNBC that he and his team had "basically moved on" from the dispute, while urging Disney to drop its federal suit. DeSantis ended his presidential bid in January.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.