The Empire Strikes Back! Disney To Appeal Legal Loss To Ron DeSantis In Free Speech Battle

The lines at Disney World may be long, but the Mouse House isn’t standing around to let Ron DeSantis savor his win yesterday in the company’s First Amendment lawsuit against the failed presidential candidate.

Less than 24 hours after a federal judge agreed with the Florida Governor and deep-sixed Disney’s nearly year long legal action, the Bob Iger-run entertainment giant and Sunshine State mega-employer gave official notice they plan to challenge Wednesday’s dismissal.

More from Deadline

“Notice is given that Plaintiff Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, U.S., Inc. (“Disney”) hereby appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit from the Order Granting Motions to Dismiss and the final judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on January 31, 2024,” said outside Disney counsel Daniel Petrocelli and a small legion of lawyers in a filing this morning.

No word yet when the actual appeal will be filed, but it could be within the next week or so, I hear.

In a Florida knife fight that started with Disney’s slow but eventual opposition to the state’s parental rights bill, known by detractors AKA the “Don’t Say Gay” law, and then turned to DeSantis’ throwing overboard the long standing governance the company had over the region around Orlando’s Disney World and appointing his own Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board. As the dust-up escalated, Disney filed its suit in April, as past and now present CEO Iger and the so-called “woke” battling DeSantis, who was eyeing what became a face plant of a primary campaign, hurled missives at each other in public

In addition to pulling back plans for a multi-billion investment and staff relocation to Florida, Iger last October ramped it up and accused DeSantis of being anti-business, “un-American,” and engaging in an “ongoing constitutional mutiny.” A month later, not long after Judge Allen Winsor rejected an earlier attempt by Team DeSantis to toss the suit out, the smooth operator exec went on to say:  “The question wasn’t even about the [bill, later law]. It was about does a company have a right to free speech. And if it exercises its right to free speech, it should not face retribution.”

With the GOP war for the 2024 POTUS nomination turning sour for the Florida governor, a hearing in mid-December before the Donald Trump appointed judge saw both side arguing over DeSantis’ latest effort to see the case ended.

Though it took some time to get a final judgement, in the end, Judge Winsor came down solid on DeSantis’ side. “In short, Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor or the Secretary, and its claims against the CFTOD Defendants fail on the merits because when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose,” he wrote in the January 31 released ruling.

As DeSantis and his fellow Florida defendants celebrated their win, Disney made it very clear, very quickly they weren’t going to be walking away any time soon. “This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” a company spokesperson said within minutes of Judge Winsor’s judgement becoming public. “If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”

Today, the media empire, and owner of the Star Wars franchise, did just that and struck back

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.