A judge in the District of Columbia has dismissed a case against a dry cleaner that claimed $54 million in damages for a pair of missing pants.
The case was brought by Roy L. Pearson, himself a judge. He originally sought $67 million from the Chung family, owners of Custom Cleaners. He calculated the amount by estimating years of law violations, adding almost $2 million in common law claims for fraud.
The Chungs denied Pearson's allegations and insisted that the pants they tried to give him were those he had brought in.
The saga began in May 2005, when Pearson took several pairs of pants to Custom Cleaners for alteration as he prepared to start his new job as an administrative law judge. He alleged that he'd brought in a pair of trousers from a blue and maroon suit, but when he came to collect them the Chungs tried to give him a pair of charcoal gray pants that he said were not his.
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During a two-day trial earlier this month, Pearson said that when he took the pants to Custom Cleaners, his financial situation was ruinous - he had just been ordered to pay $12,000 in attorney's fees to his ex-wife and his credit cards were at their limit.
Pearson, representing himself during the trial, claimed millions of dollars in attorney fees and millions more in punitive damages for what he called fraudulent advertising under the law.
He also claimed that a sign in the store's window that promised "Satisfaction Guaranteed" was an unconditional warranty that required the defendants to honor any claim by any customer without limitation.
The Chungs' attorney argued that no reasonable person would interpret the signs to mean an unconditional promise of satisfaction. District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff agreed.
In a 23-page conclusion, Bartnoff ruled that Custom Cleaners had not violated the city's Consumer Protection Act. She wrote: "A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands or accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute."
Pearson had "not met his burden of proving that the pants the defendants attempted to return to him were not the pants he brought in for alteration" she said.
Bartnoff awarded court costs to the defendants. The Chungs - who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on the case - are attempting to have their attorney's fees paid by Pearson.
Their attorney, Chris Manning, said his clients "are relieved that we are past this stage. Judge Bartnoff has spoken loudly in suggesting that, while consumers should be protected, abusive lawsuits like this will not be tolerated. Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom."
He added: "Hopefully Mr. Pearson doesn't take this any further on appeal, but we expect him to."
During the two-day trial, Soo Chung said that "economically, emotionally and healthwise as well, it has been extremely hard for us." She started the business with her husband after they moved to the United States from South Korea in 1992. Top of page