WASHINGTON, D.C. - A District of Columbia Superior Court Judge on Monday ruled against Roy Pearson, the administrative law judge who sued his dry cleaner for $54 million for allegedly misplacing his pants, and ordered him to pay the defendants' court costs.
Judge Judith Bartnoff issued her 23-page opinion, making clear her position on Pearson's claim that a "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign that hung in the window of Custom Cleaners, owned by Korean immigrants Soo and Jin Chung, provided any unhappy customer any relief requested.
"Nothing in the law supports that position," Bartnoff wrote. "To the contrary, a claim of an unfair trade practice properly is considered in terms of how the practice would be viewed and understood by a reasonable consumer."
And Bartnoff did not view Pearson's demands, which had been as high as $67 million, as reasonable.
"A reasonable consumer would not interpret Satisfaction Guaranteed. to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands or to accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute," Bartnoff wrote.
The case attracted international media attention and was thought by many to be an example of a frivolous lawsuit, especially considering Pearson once turned down a $12,000 settlement. It was filed in 2005 and heard June 12-13.
Pearson, who represented himself, broke down twice while testifying during the trial.
On the first day, Pearson described himself as a consumer's attorney and rambled so much during his testimony about his childhood that Bartnoff had to ask, "Why don't we get to why we're here?"
He also argued for attorneys fees for himself and made the argument that every day the cleaner closes shop and covers its windows is a new offense of the D.C. Consumer Protection Act because the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign can't be seen at night. Another argument, made on the second day, stated that a person does not even have to be a customer at the store to have a right to damages.
Also, he wants the cleaners to pay for the cost of renting a car that he would take to another dry cleaner. Custom Cleaners was located within walking distance of Pearson's residence.
It is the second time Pearson has been ordered to pay court costs for the other side. He was found to have caused unnecessary litigation during his divorce proceedings in 2005 and ordered to pay $12,000 to his ex-wife's attorneys.
His gripe with Custom Cleaners started in 2005 when it could not find a pair of pants belonging to one of the suits Pearson needed for his new job as an administrative law judge. Pearson claimed the pants attempted to be given to him later were not the correct pair.
Pearson called himself a private attorney general during the trial. The violations of the consumer protection act he alleged were:
-A representation that goods or services had a source, sponsorship, approval, certification, accessories, characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, or quantities that Custom Cleaners did not have;
-A representation that goods or services were of particular standard, quality, grade, style or model, when they were another;
-A misrepresentation as to a material fact which had a tendency to mislead;
-A failure to state a material fact that misled;
-An advertisement or offering of goods or services without the intent to sell them or without the intent to sell them as advertised or offered; and
-A representation that the subject of the transaction has been supplied in accordance with a previous representation when it has not.
However, the law does not establish a burden of proof for the alleged violations. Bartnoff reasoned that the burden of proof is the same as in Pearson's common law claim.
"To the extent that the plaintiff is claiming that the defendants' conduct constituted intentional misrepresentation -- either by an affirmative misrepresentation that has a tendency to mislead or by a failure to state a material fact if such failure tends to mislead -- those claims must be proven by clear, convincing and unequivocal evidence," Bartnoff wrote.
"As a practical matter, however, the Court finds that the plaintiff has not proved those or any of his other claims even by the lower preponderance of the evidence standard."