The fictional case forming the center of Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House lasted for generations, and now Rhode Island has its own version. On April 25, 2013, the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a decision in a lawsuit started on February 19, 1991, concerning construction work performed in 1990. The plaintiff claimed the lawsuit had been “in a coma,” to which the RI high court said "it is time to take this case off life support.”

Piccoli & Sons, Inc. was a second-tier site subcontractor claiming to be owed almost $400,000 for the project in question. After filing suit, Piccoli went out of business, and a receiver was appointed who pursued the lawsuit for a while. Then the case went dormant for many years.

In 2008, Piccoli – or, rather, Piccoli’s purported successor in interest – tried to amend the claim on the basis that the rights against the prime contractor had gone through a succession of three assignments after the receiver’s appointment. The contractor argued that the claim was never properly assigned under the pertinent statute permitting such assignment. And the court agreed [1]. Going back to the records at the time the receiver was acting to pursue Piccoli’s assets, the court held that the paper trail ostensibly supporting the first assignment of the claim to a secured lender went cold in 1993. “It should go without saying that a written assignment of a claim must identify the claim itself.” So the purported assignee of the claim (picture the impact of 22 years’ simple interest on a $400,000 claim!) is now looking down a dry hole.

(And for those who haven’t read Bleak House, Wikipedia has a concise summary of the main theme.)