First Reedy Creek lawsuit against DeSantis filed, but some question its strength

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — As expected, it didn’t take long for the first lawsuit to be filed against the Florida state government over its handling of Disney World’s special tax district, Reedy Creek.


However, independent observers say you shouldn’t bet on it winning.

The case, titled Foronda v. DeSantis, challenges the grounds that the governor and his allies used to order the dissolution of Reedy Creek in June 2023. A handful of Osceola County and Orange County residents, through an attorney, said the government violated Disney’s First Amendment rights in retaliating against the company for speaking out against the Parental Rights in Education Bill, a.k.a the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

They also say DeSantis violated Florida’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights by dumping Reedy Creek’s bond debt on property owners’ laps, potentially sending their payments up by 25% once the Reedy Creek law takes effect, as Tax Collector Scott Randolph suggested.

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“The rights of Florida taxpayers are specifically protected, as they are ensured that privacy and property are safeguarded,” the claim said. “The bill at issue calls to serious question the proper application of tax laws to homeowners and other taxpayers in the Orlando area.”

Though Central Floridians are the primary names listed on the paperwork, Miami-based attorney William Sanchez admits he is the brainchild behind the effort.

Sanchez, who is running as a Democrat against Senator Marco Rubio (R) and leading challenger Val Demings (D), said he was bothered by DeSantis’ retaliation and the fact that taxpayers were shut out of the political process last month.

READ: End of Reedy Creek: Disney won’t pay more taxes, but you will

“We did this in order to make sure all Florida taxpayers are represented in this battle, that we have a seat at the table,” he said. “We’re not just waiting back to see what the government and large corporations decide to do.”

Sanchez said he believed his case was very strong, but other attorneys who spoke to Eyewitness News weren’t as confident. One, who requested his name be withheld, said Sanchez was stretching the definition of “special injury,” which typically applies to plaintiffs who were uniquely affected by a government’s action rather than entire counties.

He also said he was confused by Sanchez filing his lawsuit in federal court instead of state court. Florida judges can offer taxpayers more protections than federal judges, the attorney explained.

READ: Disney’s debt is about to be Central Florida taxpayers’ problem

In response to the critique, Sanchez said he trusted federal judges more.

“Many of the elected [state] judges have to go out and raise money,” he said. “I’d rather go in front of a federal court judge that was appointed by a President and confirmed by the Senate, and doesn’t have to raise money every two or four years in order to get behind the bench.”

A spokesman for Gov. DeSantis said his office doesn’t respond to ongoing litigation, which is typical for government agencies and major companies. However, the spokesman repeated a prior statement that the governor had a plan to ensure taxpayers weren’t negatively impacted by the status of Reedy Creek.

READ: Constitutional law experts: Disney could ‘absolutely’ sue Florida for retaliation

“The local residents of Orange and Osceola counties will not have to bear the burden of Disney’s debt, as the governor has stated,” he wrote. “There is no scenario where the state would inherit Disney’s debt – this is misinformation.”

The spokesman said DeSantis’ plan would be released “soon,” and criticized attempts to “quarterback” the possible outcomes as political attacks.

Sanchez’ lawsuit is expected to be one of several. Attorneys have said Disney has grounds for a First Amendment lawsuit, and bond holders can sue over Florida’s contract law.

READ: DeSantis signs bill to dissolve Disney’s self-governing power

However, the political hopeful said he believes that his action will make a difference.

“We have a federal court judge to ask to help us in finding out whether or not they’re going to cut their own deal and cut taxpayers out,” he summarized. “It gives us a seat at the table.”

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