A federal judge has ruled that a tentative agreement reached between the estate of the late Robert Indiana and a company that marketed some of the artist’s work is not enforceable.

This is the latest step in a lengthy legal battle that began before the May 2018 death of the artist best known for his LOVE image.

The Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture in John F. Kennedy Plaza, commonly known as Love Park, in Philadelphia in 2018. Matt Rourke/Associated Press, file

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2020 by Michael McKenzie of American Image Art against Rockland attorney James Brannan in his role as executor for the Indiana estate. McKenzie had asked the court to rule that a term sheet negotiated between the two sides was binding. A term sheet is an informal agreement reached before a final settlement is reached.

“I find that, although the 2019 Term Sheet was a binding contract, not an agreement to agree, McKenzie repudiated it. Because of that repudiation, the Estate was justified in treating the entire 2019 Term Sheet as rescinded. And, the repudiation and subsequent rescission resurrected the 2008 Agreement and its arbitration provision,” Judge Torresen ruled.

This means the dispute will go to an independent arbiter to settle the dispute. McKenzie can appeal the federal judge’s ruling to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

“Anytime I get sued for $500 million and don’t have to pay a penny is a good day,” Brannan said in a statement on Wednesday. “ I am gratified by the Court’s decision. Judge Torresen clearly considered that the Estate took the high road while others were slinging vitriol – a real vindication for the Estate of Robert Indiana. “


Robert Indiana poses at his studio in Vinalhaven in 2009. Joel Page/Associated Press, file

Indiana had collaborated with McKenzie, an art publisher, on the commercialization of images of his HOPE artwork. Their ensuing HOPE collaboration was agreed to in a 2008 agreement permitting McKenzie to sell various items with the HOPE image. The 2008 agreement included a standard American Arbitration Association arbitration clause. When Indiana died in 2018, his rights under the 2008 agreement passed to his estate, the sole beneficiary of which was the Star of Hope, a nonprofit arts institution based in Maine.

The estate has wanted to go to arbitration but McKenzie opposed that move.

Indiana died May 19, 2018, at the age of 89 from heart problems at his home, called Star of Hope, on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay.

The estate became mired in lawsuits even before Indiana’s death. A federal lawsuit filed by the Morgan Art Foundation in New York May 18, 2018 – the day before Indiana died – accused McKenzie’s American Image Art of forging Indiana’s art and exhibiting some of the forgery in museums, which the Art Foundation claimed violated trademark and copyright laws. McKenzie has denied those claims and the 2018 lawsuit remains active in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York.

Indiana moved to Vinalhaven in 1978, converting a former Victorian-style building that previously served as the Odd Fellows Lodge into his home and studio.

The estate has been valued at more than $100 million.

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