Disney And Ron DeSantis Allies Reach Settlement Over Theme Park District As Mouse House Board Battle Looms

A special district board selected by Gov. Ron DeSantis that oversees The Walt Disney Co.’s Florida theme park properties settled its litigation with the company today.

This deal in the long and bitter battle between the Mouse House and the failed GOP presidential contender comes just days before an hotly contested shareholder vote for Disney and CEO Bob Iger. The legal actions between Disney and DeSantis over the past year and a half had become quite personal, with Iger at one point chastising the Sunshine State governor for being anti-business.

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That seems to all be in the rear-view mirror now.

“We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement. “This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the State.”

The board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Distruct approved the agreement in a meeting today.

Read the Disney-DeSantis settlement agreement.

The settlement does not apply to federal litigation that the company has against DeSantis over his move to strip the company of control of the theme park district. Disney has filed a notice of appeal after a federal judge tossed out the case, in which the company claims that DeSantis violated its First Amendment rights. DeSantis championed the effort to install his own members to the special district board after Disney came out against a parental rights bill, known by its detractors as the “don’t say gay” law.

As part of the settlement, Disney has agreed to set aside a set of development agreements it entered into with the special district in the final weeks before DeSantis’ allies took control. Those agreements, which ensured that the company would maintain considerable autonomy over its properties, will now be null and void. The DeSantis-selected district board had sued the company in state court to challenge their validity.

Meanwhile, Disney has agreed to defer court briefing of its appeal as negotiations continue on a new development agreement between the company and the district board.

Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ communications director, said in a statement, “We are glad that Disney has dropped its lawsuits against the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and conceded that their last-minute development agreements are null, void, and unenforceable. No corporation should be its own government. Moving forward, we stand ready to work with Disney and the District to help promote economic growth, family-friendly tourism, and accountable government in Central Florida.”

DeSantis and Disney CEO Bob Iger for a time engaged in a bitter public feud, one that even became a feature of the Florida governor’s presidential campaign. DeSantis had attacked the company as a “woke” corporation and at a campaign event last year said that the Mouse House had “really embraced the idea of getting the sexualized content in the programming for the young kids,” according to The New York Times. Iger called DeSantis’ attacks “preposterous and inaccurate,” and the company canceled plans to transfer about 2,000 employees and their families from California to a new Florida campus.

DeSantis said later today that he was “vindicated” in the moves he made. “I think that there’s going to be ways where we can do things that are in the best interest of the state of Florida, and I think Disney can be a part of that.”

DeSantis scaled back his public attacks on Disney as his campaign dragged on and eventually faltered, while the company had a series of courtroom setbacks and a new battle on its hands.

That’s why renewed peace in Southern Florida is a coup for Disney at a contentious time. It has been throwing the kitchen sink at Nelson Peltz to keep him off the board and this can bolster the company’s case that it’s in good hands with Iger and the current set of directors.

RELATED: Nelson Peltz Insists, Again, His Fight With Disney Is About The Board, Not Bob Iger – But It’s A Fine Line

Peltz’s Trian Partners has nominated the billionaire activist investor, along with former Disney executive Jay Rasulo, as directors in opposition to Disney’s slate. Communications have been raining down upon shareholders as each side instructs, exhorts, warns and cajoles with the voting underway. The final tallies and the shape of Disney’s board will be revealed April 3.

RELATED: In Disney Proxy Battle, A Second Advisory Firm Backs Activist Investor Nelson Peltz

Disney insists Peltz and Rasulo have nothing to offer strategically and would bring distraction and disruption to a board that is already firing ahead and tackling key issues from succession to streaming. The stock has risen.

Trian has a litany of complaints about the company and the board, which it says badly needs accountability.

Both sides have their backers. Peltz’s candidacy has support from the biggest proxy advisory firm, ISS. Another big advisor, Glass Lewis, backed Disney’s slate. These firms are influential since they recommend how shareholders should vote.

Big names from George Lucas to Michael Eisner to Laurene Powell Jobs to Jamie Dimon have come out in support of Disney and Iger, along with family members of Walt Disney himself.

Meanwhile, the source of the dispute, Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, no longer is the concern among its critics that it once was. That’s because DeSantis settled a lawsuit earlier this month that clarifies a narrower scope of the measure.

Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report.

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