SD Supreme Court Re-Ups a Thorn in Kevin Costner's Side

Judges rule that sculptor's longtime lawsuit against actor over bronze sculpture can resume
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2023 1:46 PM CDT
Costner Thought He Was Off the Hook for Sculpture. Not So Fast
Actor Kevin Costner, right, speaks during a news conference before a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox on Aug. 12, 2021, in Dyersville, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Kevin Costner's divorce has apparently turned contentious, but that's not the only legal issue the Yellowstone star is contending with. For 15 years, a battle has been brewing between Costner, 68, and sculptor Peggy Detmers, who filed a suit against the actor in 2008 regarding a 17-piece bronze sculpture she'd created for him years earlier. The complaint was eventually dismissed, but on Thursday, a four-judge panel from the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled the suit may resume, reports Artnet.

The installation, called "Lakota Bison Jump," depicts three Lakota warriors on horseback chasing after 14 bison. Per Artnet, Costner had originally commissioned the piece to be created by Detmers in the early '90s, specifically so he could place it on the grounds of the Dunbar, a South Dakota resort he hoped to build. Costner claimed at the time that the piece would be the third-largest bronze sculpture in the world, per Courthouse News. Detmers was initially paid $300,000—and also promised a portion of royalties on the sale of sculpture reproductions that would sold in the resort's gift shop—but in 2000, she stopped work on the sculpture when Costner started getting pushback on the planned resort by local Lakota members.

Costner then offered Detmers an additional $60,000 and made a vow to her that if the Dunbar wasn't built within a decade and the sculpture wasn't "agreeably displayed elsewhere," he'd sell the sculpture, split the proceeds with her, and allow the copyright for it to revert back to her. Dunbar never materialized, and Costner instead erected the Ta'Tanka tourist attraction on part of his property, with Detmers' sculpture included. A circuit court ruled that the tourist stop counted as "elsewhere," meaning Costner didn't have to sell it; the state Supreme Court agreed with that ruling in 2012.

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But when Costner decided to sell Ta'Tanka in 2021 and relocate the sculpture, Detmers re-upped legal action, and the state Supreme Court agreed that the lower court had made a mistake in how it interpreted her contract with Costner. In Thursday's decision, Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote that "Costner's decision to unilaterally sell [Ta'Tanka] and relocate the sculptures would trigger the sale clause in paragraph three of the Agreement unless the parties agree to another display location." The South Dakota Searchlight notes that the case will now be remanded back to Lawrence County's circuit court, where it may go to trial, per the Art Newspaper. (More Kevin Costner stories.)

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