Case of the $54 million pants presses on

John O'Brien Aug. 14, 2007, 4:00pm


The Chungs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Roy Pearson, the judge ridiculed heavily in the media because of his losing $54 million lawsuit against the dry cleaners who misplaced his pants, appears ready to go through it all over again.

Tuesday, Pearson filed a notice of appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in his suit against Custom Cleaners, which is owned by Korean immigrants Soo and Jin Chung. Pearson is an administrative law judge whose job may be in jeopardy when he has a review next month and has become the poster boy for frivolous lawsuits since his case went to trial in June.

Pearson says the company did not uphold the standards of a "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign that hung in its window and should pay not only for the emotional distress it caused but for all the time he has spent on the lawsuit over the past two years, though he did once reject a $12,000 settlement offer.

"The Chungs continue to be baffled by Mr. Pearson's actions but are very confident they will prevail on appeal and end this case once and for all," said the couple's attorney, Christopher Manning.

In her 23-page opinion, D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff wrote, "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."

The litigation stuck the Chungs, who considered moving back to South Korea, with a large bill. Fundraisers like one held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform helped to pay $83,000 to Manning and his firm.

"This lawsuit has dragged on long enough," ILR President Lisa Rickard said. "To the extent Roy Pearson ever thought he had a case, the overwhelmingly adverse decision in the trial court should have given him a clue. We urge him to reconsiderhis decision to bring this appeal, and allow the Chungs' legal nightmare to end."

Monday, Manning dropped his motion asking to have Pearson pay the Chungs' legal bills. Bartnoff had already ordered Pearson pay the Chungs' court costs.

"Mr. Pearson had a choice today -- to make peace and acknowledge the Chungs' amazing generosity in absolving him of paying their fees or to continue with this ridiculous case and meritlessly appeal," Manning said. "Mr. Pearson, unfortunately, chose desperate irrationality over common sense and decided to appeal -- unnecessarily costing the parties' more wasted time and the D.C. taxpayers more wasted money."

In March 2005, Pearson was ordered to pay a $12,000 portion of his ex-wife's attorneys fees during divorce proceedings. At this time, he had quit his job but was collecting unemployment and had two maxed out credit cards. A couple of months later, he began working at his current job and had a judge testify to his need for a suit during work.

Later that year, Custom Cleaners could not find a pair of pants belonging to one of the suits Pearson needed for his new job. Pearson claimed the Chungs tried to give him a pair of pants that were not his.

On the first day of the trial, Pearson described himself as a consumers attorney and a private attorney general 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?"

During the trial, Pearson, representing himself, cried twice during his testimony.

"What if this had been..." Pearson said before choking up.

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 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 the only cleaner within walking distance of his residence, he argued). His claim that the cleaners violated a sign that reads "Same Day Service" was tossed out.

"The Chungs have done everything possible to put this nightmare behind them and return to their normal lives," Manning said. "They have won resoundingly at trial, raised donations from gracious private donors to pay for their litigation costs, let Mr. Pearson off the hook for personally paying their expenses and extended an olive branch to Mr. Pearson in hopes that he would end this matter and not appeal."

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