Quoting Dickens’ ‘Bleak House,’ judge decides 24-year-old lawsuit

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A Lake County judge on Wednesday ordered summary judgment for defendants in a 24-year-old lawsuit he likened to the interminable Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Charles Dickens’ novel “Bleak House.”

Reuth Development Co., a longtime homebuilder in northwest Indiana, sued subsidiary H&H Reuth Inc. in 1992, claiming it owed money for real estate and construction materials. In 1995, H&H moved for summary judgment on the basis that a settlement was imminent. But the settlement never occurred and ultimately other parties were joined in the suit.

Lake Superior Judge John Sedia ruled on summary judgment in favor of H&H, writing that it appeared from the record that RDC never replied to H&H’s summary judgment motion despite requesting and receiving an extension of time in which to do so. Nevertheless, the case proceeded.

Sedia opened his order with a lengthy excerpt from “Bleak House,” including these passages: “Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. … there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court.”

 “The fictional Jarndyce case is but a literary exaggeration of protracted litigation that is typified by our 1992 case: even though we have had litigants, attorneys and even a judge pass away, no one has (as yet) blown their brains out over it and there are more than three litigants left upon the earth,” Sedia wrote in the order provided to Indiana Lawyer.

“As a result of RDC’s failure to respond, the Court is compelled to grant H&H’s Motion for Summary Judgment,” he wrote in Rueth Development Co. and Rueth Development Co. d/b/a Superior Lumber Co. v. H&H Rueth, Inc., 45D01-9209-CP-1103

“RDC has filed numerous documents, including affidavits and transcripts, and made cogent and persuasive argument as to why summary judgment should be denied to H & H. The Court, in its discretion, could find that RDC has come forward with evidence” proving the existence of an issue of material fact. “(T)he sheer complexity of the case and the motivations of the parties, particularly H & H, have caused this case to turn into a modern-day Jarndyce which is crying out for a resolution on the merits.

“This is not to say that the Court, after reviewing and considering the mountain of materials filed by RDC, and H & H, would not have found in favor of H & H anyway had all these documents been timely filed. The Indiana Supreme Court … does not give the Court the discretion to consider these materials, and compels the granting of H & H’s Motion for Summary Judgment.”



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