PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A complicated dispute between the sculpture artist Peggy Detmers and the movie actor Kevin Costner over the location of 17 bronze likenesses of buffalo and Lakota warriors must be reconsidered in circuit court, the South Dakota Supreme Court has decided.

In a unanimous opinion publicly released Thursday, the state’s high court said that Circuit Judge Eric Strawn erred when he ruled in favor of Costner. Judge Strawn had found that the matter was already decided in a previous lawsuit Detmers brought against Costner in 2008 that also went before the Supreme Court.

The sculptures originally were planned to be shown at The Dunbar, a luxury resort that Costner planned at Deadwood. When the project didn’t happen, the sculptures were put on display at Tatanka, another project Costner developed in some of the area where The Dunbar had been planned. Detmers brought the current suit after Costner listed the Tatanka site for sale in 2021.

The Supreme Court on Thursday disagreed with the circuit judge that the first lawsuit had decided the matter. Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote the opinion. He said the rights and obligations of the parties in the location and display of the sculptures, “after they were agreeably displayed at Tatanka, were not litigated or decided” in the earlier lawsuit.

Detmers brought the second suit to force Costner to uphold the part of their agreement that he must sell the sculptures, and split the proceeds with her, if Costner and Detmers couldn’t agree on where the sculptures should be relocated.

“Since the condition that ‘the sculptures are not agreeably displayed elsewhere’ is ongoing,
Costner’s decision to unilaterally sell Tatanka and relocate the sculptures would trigger the sale clause in paragraph three of the Agreement unless the parties agree to another display location,” Chief Justice Jensen wrote. “The circuit court erred in its conclusion that Costner had no remaining obligation under paragraph three of the Agreement after the parties agreed to display the sculptures at Tatanka.”

But the Supreme Court ruled that Detmers failed to prove that Costner, by putting the Tatanka property up for sale, had triggered the requirement that the sculptures had to be sold.

“Even if Costner sells Tatanka or unilaterally relocates the sculptures from Tatanka to a place not agreeable to Detmers, such an action would not breach his obligation under the Agreement.
Instead, this event would satisfy the second condition in paragraph three of the Agreement, triggering the obligation to sell the sculptures, split the profits, and transfer the copyright to Detmers. At present, Costner owes Detmers no obligation with respect to the display or sale of the sculptures that she can enforce against him,” Chief Justice Jensen concluded.