Former judge not giving up on $54 mil missing pants case

John O'Brien Jan. 6, 2009, 4:25pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The man who demanded $54 million because his dry cleaners misplaced his pants is again appealing to the District of Columbia's highest court.

Roy Pearson, a former administrative law judge who lost his job during the course of his lawsuit, petitioned the D.C. Court of Appeals for another hearing on his case Tuesday. A three-judge panel of the Court rejected his appeal of a lower court ruling on Dec. 19.

Pearson, who wants the entire roster of judges to participate in the rehearing, said the panel did not acknowledge three of the four aspects of his appeal. His case is based on a sign reading "Same Day Service" that hung in Custom Cleaners and became an example used by tort reformers of a frivolous lawsuit.

"During his case-in-chief, Plaintiff testified that he witnessed a denial of same-day service to a customer and the disclosure to the customer that same day service is available only for service requests made before 4 p.m.," Pearson wrote in his petition.

"Plaintiff also testified that a sign at the entrance to the cleaners advised customers that the cleaners closed at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. depending on the day. Thus, customers attracted by the Same Day Service sign outside the store learned upon coming in the cleaners that same day service is not available for one-fourth of each day (three out of the 12 hours the cleaners is open). That is a classic bait-and-switch."

Christopher Manning, attorney for Custom Cleaners owners Soo and Jin Chung, called the petition "sad and unfortunate."

"Amazingly, despite two resounding defeats, Mr. Pearson has, once again, decided to prolong the needless agony of this case for the Chungs, for the D.C. taxpayers and for everyone involved," Manning said.

"The Chungs and I hope the D.C. Court of Appeals will deny Mr. Pearson's Petition and will put this case to rest in this jurisdiction. Most importantly, the Chungs and I call on Mayor Fenty and the D.C. City Council to amend the very vague and often unfair D.C. Consumer Protection Act so that cases like this cannot happen again."

Manning has represented the appeals stage of the suit pro bono. A fundraiser held by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, which owns Legal Newsline, paid for the rest of the Chungs' legal bills.

In her 23-page opinion issued in Aug. 2007, 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."

Soon after, the Chungs dropped their request for attorneys fees in the hopes Pearson would not appeal. He has also sued D.C. over the loss of his job.

The saga began in March 2005, when Pearson was ordered to pay a $12,000 portion of his ex-wife's attorneys fees incurred during divorce proceedings. At the 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 as an administrative law judge 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 wanted 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 by Bartnoff.

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