TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The federal lawsuit contesting the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District failed in court on May 10. The plaintiffs, all residents of Orange and Osceola counties, have refiled their civil lawsuit in state court to contest the bill from 2022’s first special session.
Senate Bill 4-C, seeks to dissolve any and all special independent districts established before 1968, the year Florida’s state constitution was ratified. The area containing Walt Disney World was one of those districts.
The legislation’s addition to an expanded redistricting special session, and subsequent passage on a party line vote was largely seen as a punishment, a subject of multiple previous reports by multiple news outlets including WFLA.com, against the Walt Disney Company for opposing 2022’s Parental Rights in Education, House Bill 1557.
Opponents of the bill named it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, while its supporters said it was targeted at keeping students from kindergarten through third grade from learning about sexual orientation, and to prevent what’s called grooming, or preparing a potential victim for abuse.
The bill from special session, 4-C, takes effect on July 1, giving the special districts a year to recertify. Subsequent political debate and commentary led Gov. Ron DeSantis to say it was likely the state would take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, following its dissolution.
The plaintiffs’, Michael, Leslie, and Eduardo Foronoda, and Vivian Gonzales’, lawsuit alleges their rights as taxpayers are being violated due to the potential dissolution of Reedy Creek, should they fail to recertify their status in 2023.
The lawsuit by the Orange and Osceola residents living near Walt Disney World and filed in federal court in May failed due to a judge’s ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction for the case. Now refiled in state court, another resident in the same area has filed a motion of intervention, seeking to block the suit based on a mixture of alleged procedural flaws, and lack of jurisdiction or injury to the plaintiffs.
The intervenor, James Pickett, filed his motion as a resident of Orange County with equal jurisdiction to the plaintiffs. His motion says that the plaintiffs “have relied upon opinions of primarily Democratic Party members and operatives,” as well as saying that their cited opinions “lack any semblance of true journalism.”
Pickett’s motion against the Forondas and Gonzales states their motive for the lawsuit is to scare and fearmonger residents of Orange and Osceola counties concerning potential increased property taxes and a loss of jobs due to the dissolution of RCID.
While the plaintiffs say DeSantis encouraged the dissolution legislation as a form of political retaliation against Disney, Pickett’s own filing says, instead, that Florida’s Constitution, statutes, and judicial precedence does not contain anything relevant to the dissolution legislation, and that the plaintiffs in the case had “failed to assert” anything factual to support their case.
Further, Pickett says the plaintiffs are not landowners or residents or creditors of RCID, and therefore will not be affected by 4-C’s enactment in July. He said that they have also not asserted that they are property holders.
Instead, the plaintiffs’ filing claims potential for injury without injunction due to the effect they believe will occur on their property taxes, should RCID be dissolved. They based their complaint on statements by the Orange County Tax Collector, who made statements asserting the tax burden would shift to the counties upon dissolution of RCID.
State law, specifically F.S. 189.076, says “Unless otherwise provided by law or ordinance, the dissolution of a special district government shall transfer the title to all property owned by the preexisting special district government to the local general-purpose government, which shall also assume all indebtedness of the preexisting special district.”
It is that statute which concerned the plaintiffs, regarding the tax burden should RCID be dissolved.
“That debt will not end up going to any of these local governments, it’s not going to go to the state government either,” DeSantis asserted in May. It’s going to absolutely be dealt with with the taxpayers who are currently in that district, and we’re going to have a proposal to make sure that’s clear, and that is 100%. And we understood that.”
At this stage, Florida courts will have to hear arguments of plaintiffs, intervenor, and defendants to decide what happens next.