“When you wish upon a star,” as the Disney classic goes, “your dreams come true.” Though the attorneys representing the company couldn’t have imagined that their chosen star could possibly grant them such a chronically bumbling adversary. In a manufactured culture war designed to prop up an already floundering presidential bid, Ron DeSantis took aim at Disney for the sin of offering a mild rebuke of his “Don’t Say Gay” initiative by using his control of the Florida government to hit Disney’s bottom line… despite the company being a major employer and tax revenue source for the state. Strategery!
After trying to abolish Disney’s special tax district — only to learn that this would cost the state millions — he resolved to replace the whole board with his stooges — who then forgot to object as the existing board entered legally binding contracts functionally eliminating the future board’s authority. Outlawyered through the slimmest of effort, DeSantis and the legislature passed a law barring the board from complying with the prior executed contracts in violation of explicit language in the Constitution, consequently landing them in federal court.
Unhappy with the obvious and inevitable consequences of his own actions, DeSantis had the board file a competing lawsuit in state court that was already riddled with procedural problems before these idiots rendered their own case moot.
Crackerjack lawyering, guys! From the New York Times:
But the company’s argument about why the district’s case should be tossed was less expected: Mr. DeSantis and his allies in the Legislature rendered the lawsuit moot with their subsequent actions, the filing said. By prohibiting the district from complying with the contracts, Mr. DeSantis and the Legislature made “any order this court could issue — in either party’s favor — legally irrelevant.”
“In short, any declaration about the contracts’ enforceability, voidness or validity — either way — would be an advisory opinion with no real-world consequence,” Disney added in the filing. “Trial courts in Florida are forbidden from issuing advisory opinions.” The company cited more than 40 court rulings in support of its argument.
By choosing to pass the unconstitutional performative hissy fit to void the prior board’s contracts, Florida Republicans obliterated the litigation argument that the board shouldn’t have to comply with the contracts. No matter how doomed the Florida law functionally canceling the contracts — despite the Constitution saying verbatim “No state shall pass any Law impairing the obligation of contracts” — the fact remains that right now the new board suffers no injury from these contracts because the state law says they aren’t bound by the contracts. And if they aren’t obligated to live by the contracts, there’s no basis for a lawsuit over the contracts.
Had the new board directly gone to state court on the first day they took over claiming that the last-minute contracts were improperly executed under Florida law, they might have been able to make that stick. But instead, Florida Republicans couldn’t act fast enough to ram through this dumb law — making a bunch of retaliatory comments along the way — opening the door for Disney to file first in federal court on Contracts Clause and free speech grounds that blocked off the state route.
Strategically, this is like litigating against a coke fiend on a 48-hour bender.
Biglaw attorneys rarely get saucy in legal filings, but the motion reads as though most of the editing process involved removing early draft phrases like, “In a shocking move of incompetence…” or “Look, we can’t believe they’re this stupid either.”
The motion to dismiss is available in full on the next page.
This is remedial civil procedure and Disney’s lawyers from O’Melveny, WilmerHale, and local counsel Adam Losey cannot believe their luck getting to tee off against this one.
Or maybe DeSantis is intentionally hurling roadblocks in the way of his own case, aiming to collect all the benefits of taking a doomed stand against some vague conception of wokeness while guaranteeing that one of the state’s biggest employers ultimately comes out unscathed.
It’s not impossible, but if that’s the case there are certainly less publicly embarrassing ways to do it.
Disney Argues New Florida Law Nullifies DeSantis-Backed Suit [New York Times]
Disney asks state court to dismiss DeSantis-appointed board’s lawsuit [Spectrum News 13]
Earlier: Disney’s Lawyers Are Better Than Ron DeSantis’s Lawyers
Disney Litigators Take Their Turn Beating The Hell Out Of Ron DeSantis With New Federal Lawsuit
Harvard Law’s Ron DeSantis Flunks Disney’s Contract Issue Spotter
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.