How King Charles Got Thrown Into Disney’s Fight With Florida Governor DeSantis

Clause allows a contract to last as long as the monarch’s heirs.

(Bloomberg) — The Magic Kingdom is rife with royal footprints, from Cinderella Castle to the paid actors who bring Walt Disney Co.’s famous princesses, princes and evil queens to life. Now, one real-life royal has been thrown into the fray.

The newly appointed board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which governs municipal services in Disney’s Florida resort area,  said in a meeting this week that their powers have been hamstrung by a contract enacted in February before they took office. The agreement limits the new board’s authority over things like advertising and design reviews. The terms exist in perpetuity, or if that isn’t legal, “until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this declaration.” 

It’s called a royal lives clause, and it has less to do with Disney’s obsession with fairy tales and everything to do with extending a contract as long as possible. Such clauses date back to the 17th century and were designed to get around rules preventing people from putting restrictions on private property in perpetuity. Some clauses invoke the children and other descendants of the person at the center of a trust. Given how large and wealthy royal families are, the logic was that they would live longer lives than anyone else and therefore extend the length of the agreement.

King Charles has five grandchildren. Prince William and Princess Catherine have three children between the ages of 4 and 9, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have two children. Their youngest, Lilibet Diana, is 1. 

Deborah Carrivick, a partner with Birketts’ private client advisory team in London, said that while it’s not common to see a royal lives clause in a new contract, they do still exist. The death of Queen Elizabeth II, she said, resulted in Birketts working on a few trusts that used the clauses, which are recognized by the courts.”The only real basis on which they could be contested is if there were some allegation that the descendants of the named monarch included somebody other than those who are publicly recorded,” she said.

The Disney fight is the latest in an ongoing war between the company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. It accelerated when the company opposed a law limiting discussion of gender identity in elementary schools last year. DeSantis and state legislators disbanded the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which had governed municipal services in the region since the 1960s, and replaced it with a new district headed by gubernatorial appointees.

The new district board members said they will fight the contract in court.  “The agreement unlawfully delegates the district’s legislative authority to a private corporation, subverts the provisions of the new act, and binds the hands of the new board,” lawyers representing the board said in a statement.

The company disputes that. “All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law,” Disney said.

(Updates with outside attorney’s comment in fifth paragraph.)

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