Lawsuit Against Disney World Arises over False Drug Arrest of Grandmother

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel


On July 29, 2020, a 69-year-old great-grandmother filed suit in Circuit Court in Orange County Florida against the Walt Disney Company, in addition to other Disney entities and employees, alleging that the defendants attempted to rob her of her physical liberty, her personal dignity and good name after she was arrested for possession of a hemp-based CBD oil while on a family trip to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 2019.

In the complaint, Hester Jordan Burkhalter describes how on April 15, 2019, she and her family arrived at Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park. The plaintiff claims that in anticipation of arthritic pain from the large amount of walking involved in visiting a Disney park, she was carrying a one-ounce bottle of CBD oil.

Upon reaching the park’s security check point, the plaintiff was allegedly removed from her family and asked to empty the contents of her purse whereupon park security personnel immediately began interrogating her about the CBD oil. Disney security repeatedly asked the plaintiff if the product contained THC, despite the label asserting that it contained 0% THC, and ultimately decided to conduct a THC field test. After the first THC field test came back negative, a second test was conducted, returning a false positive result and the plaintiff was subsequently arrested for felony narcotics.

After the plaintiff’s arrest, her family was ejected from the park and informed that they were now considered trespassers and were required to remove their RV from Disney property. After being detained, plaintiff alleges she was forced to endure high humidity and extreme temperatures, triggering a panic attack. Plaintiff also asserts that she requested an ambulance after vomiting, which was denied by the defendants.

The incident was captured by body cam footage from involved law enforcement, which the suit claims was highly edited. Nearly 15 hours after entering the Disney security check point and enduring a body cavity search, the plaintiff was released on bail.

The suit brings causes of action for assault and battery, false arrest and imprisonment, defamation by implication, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution and negligence. Plaintiff is represented by Benjamin Crump and Scott Carruthers of Ben Crump PLLC, the same attorney and law firm that represents the family of George Floyd.

The suit is: Hester Jordan Burkhalter et al. v. The Walt Disney Co. et al. in the Circuit Court for the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Orange County, Florida.


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