Disney allowed to keep security records secret
FLORIDA–The state court of appeals in Daytona Beach upheld without comment a lower court decision denying Bob and Kathy Sipkema access to Walt Disney World’s security records. The late June ruling allows Disney’s security force to operate without public scrutiny as required of other law enforcement organizations by the state open records law.
The Sipkemas requested the records as evidence that the Disney security force’s negligence caused the death of their son, Robb, in 1994. The Sipkemas claim that Disney assumed the duties of a law enforcement agency when security officers chased Robb’s truck as it left Disney property. During the chase, the truck crashed, killing Robb.
Disney owns 97% of the 27,000 acres that comprise the Reedy Creek Improvement District, encompassing Walt Disney World and two cities within a multi-county special taxing and zoning entity created in 1967. Disney contracted with the district to provide “security” services and operates an 800-person security force. This security force performs certain law enforcement functions including stopping motorists on public roads and issuing citations for traffic violations.
After Disney refused to release the records, the Sipkemas and the state attorney general sued. They argued that under the Florida open records law, Disney, like all police agencies in the state, is required to provide public access to records. The trial court in Orlando held that Disney was not a police agency because it provided only “night watchman” services. The court of appeals agreed and upheld the lower court’s ruling. But because the court issued a per curiam opinion offering no explanation for its affirmance, it foreclosed the Sipkemas’ right to pursue an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. The Sipkemas have moved for a rehearing. (Sipkema v. Reedy Creek Improvement District; Plaintiffs’ Counsel: Eric Faddis, Orlando)