Walt Disney World's countersuit by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District is just another chapter in Florida Governor Rick Scott's ongoing fight. Ron DeSantis is at odds with the theme park giant about what was formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
The lawsuit filed by the district on May 1 at the Orange County Clerk of Courts discusses the legal basis of the board's April 26 decision to declare two Disney agreements made with the former Reedy Creek district Board null and void.
The lawsuit filed by the district alleges that Disney "cobbled" together the two controversial agreements which appeared to strip land development power from the new district board. This angered both the board and DeSantis.
The lawsuit is seeking to declare the Disney agreements null, unenforceable, and/or invalid in order to prevent Disney from enforcing these agreements. The lawsuit was filed in response to Disney's April 26 lawsuit against the state for its decision to nullify the agreement and to defend its First Amendment rights.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District claims that "These agreements smell of a backroom agreement -- drafted by Disney, with the consent of a lawyer who represents both Disney and District, scheduled for hearings without proper notice and rushed through a Disney-controlled Board Disney knew wouldn't dwell on the issue long," according to the lawsuit. Disney's agreements violate Florida constitutional, statutory and common law principles, but perhaps because of their haste or arrogance. They are therefore null and void - not worth the paper on which they were printed.
In the lawsuit, it is also alleged that the district board wanted to meet Disney in order to find a solution amicable to protect Disney's investments and to provide more accountability, transparency and collaboration between the parties. Disney would not accept that. Disney insists that the deals, which were drafted by Disney for its former members of the board to sign, are valid, and therefore enforceable, against the District, despite their obvious flaws. "The District seeks a declaration of invalidity from the court," stated the lawsuit.
The following lawsuits are included in the count of those that support the nullification decision:
The lawsuit claims that the agreements were not properly announced to the public, including by mail. The lawsuit claims that the former Reedy Creek board was not authorized to enter into land development agreements. Alleged illegal delegation of government authority to a private party: The lawsuit alleges that the agreement contracts out the district’s legislative power, including allowing it to prevail in conflicts between joint comprehensive planning and the district’s land development regulations. It also claims the agreement transfers all rights and entitlements to Disney in the district, and obliges the district in order to accommodate Disney’s future growth to design, fund and construct the public facilities required.
The lawsuit alleges that Disney's agreements were one-sided, and did not take into consideration the needs of the district.
The only thing Disney allegedly provided in the development contract was an agreement that it would not demand more than the fair market value of Disney-owned land that the district may need to complete any public facilities projects Disney might obligate the District to undertake as a result of the agreement. The lawsuit alleged that the district had already the right to use private land for public projects, and only pay fair market value.
Lawson Huck Gonzalez PLLC in Tallahassee and Cooper & Hawk, Washington D.C. are the law firms that appear in the complaint as representing the district.
The board of directors announced at a special meeting held on May 1 that it would be filing a lawsuit against Disney.
Martin Garcia, the Board chairman, said that since Disney sueded the district it had no other choice than to respond. "This district will seek justice at the state court in Central Florida where it, as well as Disney, reside and conduct business. We will pursue justice in our backyard. "The district's acting General Council and litigation counsel have the authority to bring any causes of action or defenses they deem appropriate."
Disney representatives could not be reached to comment.
The former Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 39-square mile governing jurisdiction as well as special taxing district for Walt Disney World Resort land created in 1968, had the same authority and responsibilities of a county.
Walt Disney World employs nearly 75,000 Orlando employees and its four local theme park -- Magic Kingdom Epcot Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios - are among Central Florida's most popular tourist attractions.