For years, Pop artist extraordinaire Peter Max has been at the center of a Britney Spears-esque guardianship battle that has pit his daughter Libra Max against his court-appointed steward, Barbara Lissner.
That prolonged, dramatic court battle, fought in both state and federal courts, took a turn in Lissner’s favor earlier this month when U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York granted Lissner’s motion to dismiss Max’s suit, which claimed the guardian was intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the family, isolating Peter Max, and preying on his Alzheimer’s induced dementia for financial gain, racking up over $2 million in fees at around $550 per hour for her guardianship services.
In her complaint, Max claims Lissner should never have been assigned as her father’s guardian, and his need for a guardian ended with the death of his wife, Mary Max, née Balkin. Peter Max, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has had a court-appointed personal needs guardian since 2015. Mary Max committed suicide in 2019 shortly after a New York Times story detailed allegations that she was abusing her husband who was, according to the Times report, simultaneously being exploited by business associates. Lissner was appointed as Max’s guardian in 2019 after the departure of several other court-appointed guardians.
Libra Max, meanwhile, has alleged that Lissner’s care has been “inhumane and predatory.” In court documents, she has claimed Lissner immediately began isolating her father from his family and friends, making it difficult for them to visit and communicate with him. The complaint further alleges that Lissner refused to provide the artist with basic necessities such as dental care and fresh clothing, and that she was verbally abusive towards Max and his family members, and has often denied requests for visitation.
Lissner moved to dismiss the lawsuit under a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, as the guardianship is a state, not federal ruling. She further moved to dismiss on the grounds that Max has failed to state a claim.
“Because the adjudication of Plaintiff’s [intentional infliction of emotional distress] claim would essentially put this Court in the position of second-guessing the decisions of the guardianship court … the court lacks jurisdiction … ” Judge Caproni wrote in the decision on March 3.
Since 2019, Libra Max has unsuccessfully tried to have Lissner’s guardianship of Peter Max terminated three times in state courts, each time unsuccessfully, with allegations that mirror those in the federal complaint.
The federal court also acknowledged the unfortunate reality that the family members were unable to resolve their disagreements out of the public sphere and without court intervention.
“Prior to being filed, Ms. Max sent the complaint to the press, and she and her counsel continued a publicity campaign against Ms. Lissner. Today’s decision shows Ms. Max’s allegations for what they are, and hopefully puts an end, at least for the time being, to the unjustified, ongoing efforts against Ms. Lissner,” Oren Warshavsky, of the law firm BakerHostetler, which was representing Lissner, said in a statement.
Libra Max, and her brother, Adam, have spoken to or reached out to media outlets both against and in support of Lissner’s care, respectively, while Lissner has been fighting lawsuits since 2019. Adam has supported Lissner’s treatment of her father, claiming that Peter Max is in “excellent care. He’s never been treated better in his life.”
In a separate case, Adam Max has been accused of colluding with his father’s business associates, and increasing production of paintings via a throng of assistants. Those works are regularly sold through smaller auction houses and on cruise ships. That suit is not the only example of Adam Max being accused of harming his father. Before she committed suicide, Mary Max, Peter’s wife, accused Adam Max of kidnapping his father for financial gain.
Throughout the legal saga, the one person whom neither the media nor the courts have heard from is Peter Max, who, by all accounts, remains in his Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan under Lissner’s care and who, according to the New York Times, is unable to speak for himself.