Archive for Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cleaners prevail in pants suit

June 26, 2007


— No pair of pants is worth $54 million.

A judge rejected a lawsuit Monday that sought that amount by taking a dry cleaner's promise of "Satisfaction Guaranteed" to its most litigious extreme.

Roy L. Pearson became a worldwide symbol of legal abuse by seeking jackpot justice from a simple complaint - that a neighborhood dry cleaners lost the pants from a suit and tried to give him a pair that were not his.

His claim, reduced from $67 million, was based on a strict interpretation of the city's consumer protection law - which imposes fines of $1,500 per violation - as well as damages for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney's fees for representing himself.

But District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff ruled that the owners of Custom Cleaners did not violate the consumer protection law by failing to live up to Pearson's expectations of the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign once displayed in the store.

"A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands," the judge wrote.

Bartnoff wrote that Pearson, an administrative law judge, also failed to prove that the pants the dry cleaner tried to return were not the pants he took in.

Bartnoff ordered Pearson to pay clerical court costs of about $1,000 to defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung.

A motion to recover the Chungs' tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees will be considered later.

"Judge Bartnoff has spoken loudly in suggesting that, while consumers should be protected, abusive lawsuits like this will not be tolerated," the Chungs' attorney, Chris Manning, said in a statement. "Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom."

The case began in 2005 when Pearson became a judge and brought several suits for alterations to Custom Cleaners in Washington. A pair of pants from one suit was missing when he requested it two days later.

Pearson asked the cleaners for the full price of the suit: more than $1,000. But a week later, the Chungs said the pants had been found and refused to pay. Pearson said those were not his pants and decided to sue.

Over the course of the litigation, the Chungs said they made three settlement offers - $3,000, then $4,600, then $12,000 - all rejected.


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