Disney has voluntarily dismissed all but the free speech claim against Governor Ron DeSantis in the lawsuit challenging his process for providing compensation to businesses that were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company was suing the state for $400 million of lost income and alleged the governor’s process was retaliatory against businesses critical of the state’s pandemic policies. It argued the process violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s right of free speech.
Disney’s decision to drop all but the free speech claim is a strategic move in the case, as the company is likely aiming to appeal the ruling quickly to a higher court. Under Florida law, Disney would likely have had to pursue the claims related to lost income and business contract violation separately, which would have taken more time. By focusing on the free speech claim, Disney can move quickly to a higher court and have a better chance of overturning the lower court’s ruling.
It is unclear whether Disney will be successful in its appeal, as the First Amendment’s protection of free speech is limited to preventing the government from punishing or retaliating against individuals or businesses for their political speech. However, if the company is able to show that the state’s process for providing COVID-19 relief was specifically designed to target individuals or businesses that have been critical of the state’s policies, it may have a better chance of success.