A federal judge tossed out a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) that sought to halt the dismantling of the Walt Disney World Resort's Reedy Creek Improvement District.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga determined Tuesday that the federal court lacked standing because it was a state issue, the plaintiffs' First Amendment arguments were flawed, and the lawsuit was premised on a piece of legislation that does not go into effect until July.
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"In Count I, Plaintiffs allege that Senate Bill 4-C violates Florida’s Reedy Creek Improvement Act and 'contractual obligations' the state owes to Floridians," Altonaga, a Bush appointee, wrote. "The Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ sole remaining claim for violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights. '[A] party generally may assert only his or her own rights and cannot raise the claims of third parties not before the court.'"
In the 1960s, Florida established RCID as a special district under the Reedy Creek Improvement Act. RCID is run by the landowners in the district, predominantly Disney, who oversee basic local government functions such as zoning, infrastructure, and building codes.
The lawsuit was filed last week by William Sanchez, a Democratic contender for Senate. Michael and Edward Foronda and Vivian Gorsky were listed as plaintiffs. The suit challenged a bill DeSantis signed last month stripping RCID of its special district status.
They argued that SB 4-C violates the Florida Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and Reedy Creek Improvement Act, but Altonaga ruled those were state laws outside the federal court's jurisdiction. She also noted the legislation in question had not yet taken effect.
"None of Plaintiffs’ claims is ripe. Senate Bill 4-C does not take effect until July 1, 2022," the judge said. "When a plaintiff files 'a preenforcement, constitutional challenge to a state statute, the injury requirement may be satisfied by establishing a realistic danger of sustaining direct injury as a result of the statute’s operation or enforcement.'"
While the bill does not mention taxpayers, over 90% of experts expect taxes in the Orlando area to rise by over $1 billion, Sanchez told the Washington Examiner. He said the plaintiffs plan to file an amended complaint.
"Since the order is without prejudice, plaintiffs will be filing an amended complaint, as is often done in matters such as these. The amended complaint should be filed by Monday, May 16th, 2022. This is just the beginning of the battle, as we are attempting to achieve justice for Florida taxpayers," his office said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
Critics such as Sanchez argued that DeSantis's move was done in retaliation against Disney for its vocal opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill. Disney and Florida Republicans had been ensnared in a weekslong war of words over the controversial legislation. DeSantis claims he supported the legislation to dissolve RCID's special district status because "I’m just not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state."
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In response to DeSantis signing the bill, RCID released a statement arguing that the state would be on the hook for its roughly $1 billion in outstanding debt — something DeSantis has disputed.
"In light of the State of Florida's pledge to the District's bondholders, Reedy Creek expects to explore its options while continuing its present operations, including levying and collecting its ad valorem taxes and collecting its utility revenues, paying debt service on its ad valorem tax bonds and utility revenue bonds, complying with its bond covenants and operating and maintaining its properties," RCID said in a statement, per CNN.