A Tale as Old as Time: Disney and DeSantis Battle in the Courts

DeSantis’s Motion Against Judge Walker

Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis filed a motion to recuse the Hon. Mark E. Walker, a judge on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, from presiding over Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis.

A History of Bias?

The basis for the disqualification is a concern that Walker has “prejudged Disney’s retaliation theory,” therefore creating “significant doubts about the court’s impartiality.” The motion, which includes transcripts from unrelated cases in which Walker raised Disney as an example of “state retaliation.” Walker has a history of ruling against Florida Republicans. In 2021, for example, he struck down a state election law for being discriminatory. He also ruled against the Stop WOKE Act, declaring that the statute was “bordering on unintelligible.”

Disney’s First Amendment Suit Against DeSantis

The case, Disney v. DeSantis, argues DeSantis violated Disney’s First Amendment rights by waging a “campaign of punishment” against the entertainment company for its public opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act. Also known as the Don’t Say Gay law, the Act prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specific manner.”

Invalidation of Agreements and Control Over Reedy Creek Improvement District

This isn’t the only lawsuit Disney has on its plate. Disney has also moved to dismiss as moot a lawsuit filed by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) in the Orange County Circuit Court. This case, which is presided over by the Hon. Margaret H. Schreiber, accuses Disney of operating a “fiefdom,” where it choses how (and when) to enforce laws against itself, including the determination of its own tax rate. In its lawsuit, the CFTOD requests that months-old agreements between the two parties be invalidated, effectively dissolving Disney’s control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, something the Florida Legislature already achieved when it passed SB1604, a law which rendered the disputed contracts void and unenforceable.

Disney’s Motion to Dismiss

In its motion to dismiss, Disney claims the complaint raises two threshold legal issues: mootness and the state’s “principle of priority” rule. The first issue concerns the role of judicial tribunals. These bodies are tasked with deciding actual controversies, with judgments that can be carried into effect. Their role is not to give opinions on moot questions. The second issue, the priority of principle rule, states that state proceedings should be stayed pending an earlier-filed federal court proceeding.

Prior to founding Trellis, Nicole Clark was a business litigation and labor and employment attorney who handled litigation in both state and federal courts. She regularly represented multinational corporations in claims ranging from high-profile trade secret disputes to complex class-action litigation. Frustrated by sending internal emails and collecting anecdotes on judges in order to make strategic case recommendations, she built Trellis to solve her own need for access to data, information, and analytics at the state trial court level. Prior to law school, Nicole attended Bard College, beginning her college coursework at the age of sixteen. She graduated with honors from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in Journalism, and received her Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ. Nicole sat for the Bar Exam in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and remains licensed to practice law in all three states.