Judge Rules in Favor of Dry Cleaners in $54 Million Pants Lawsuit

Fifteen years ago, in Washington DC, Roy Pearson's dry cleaners goofed up and lost a pair of his pants.

Roy is a lawyer so he sued them for $54 million dollars. He dramatically told the court about receiving the wrong pants.

"These are not my pants," he testified, "and I told her I have never in my adult life, with one exception, never worn pants with cuffs. The clerk insisted that they were mine"! Then overcome with emotion he ran out of the courtroom crying.

There was a back story here as well. In 2002 Roy claimed that they had lost another pair of pants. Jin and Soo Chung who own Custom Cleaners cut him a check for $150 for the pants but banned him from returning. He begged for years to be let back in. He said that he didn't have a car and they were the only dry cleaner in the neighborhood. After 3 years of begging they allowed him back, that was in May of 2005. As Chung's attorney explains "then like some real-life Groundhog Day nightmare, another pair of trousers went missing.

At the time he began the suit he claimed the pants were worth $1,100. The Chung's tried to give him the money but he needed money for the inconvenience. They tried to settle for $4600! He turned them down and said it would be a lot more! He needed money for emotional distress. They made a final offer to end it at $12,000! He said 'no sir'.

Over time, his demands ballooned to as high as $67 million. His case was based on the cleaners "satisfaction guaranteed" sign they had placed by the register. He needed tens of millions to be satisfied. When that didn't seem to be catching on with the Judge he switched tactics. The Chung's also had a sign posted that promised "Same Day Service". He cited DC's consumer protection act that awards $1500 per violation. He argued every day was a violation and since it had been 1200 days since he had received his pants he should get 1.8 million. It took four years of prodding through the court systems but Pearson ultimately lost his case.

But that wasn't the end of it for him. Lawyers said this guy is so out of line that even we want him punished!

Something called The Board on Professional Responsibility issued a 90-day suspension of Pearson's license to practice law. He wasn't going to take that lying down so he appealed. That appeal has been argued for 11 years! Yesterday the Court of Appeals has finally upheld the original decision finding that Pearson was indeed guilty of misconduct in both motion and discovery practice and seriously interfered with the administration of justice. 

The total damages figure is shocking in itself; simply put, Pearson asked the trial court to award him $67,292,000 because of his dissatisfaction with defendants’ dry cleaning services. But the constituent parts of that $67,292,000 total are equally troubling. Pearson asked for $90,000 to rent a car, a facially disproportionate request in response to the alleged need to patronize another dry cleaner. He claimed that his emotional distress over a few common and innocuous signs and a lost pair of pants was so severe that he was entitled to $3,000,000 in damages. Perhaps most remarkable was his request for a judgment obligating the Chungs to provide him with ongoing services and to pay him $10,000 immediately based on nothing more than his own request, a demand that the Hearing Committee called “patently non-cognizable,” was made after the defendants had already taken down the signs at the heart of the controversy, was tethered to no statutory basis, and was completely out of proportion to any likely shortcoming in dry cleaning service. These damages theories were utterly frivolous, implausible to the point of having “not even a faint hope of success,” and they violated Rule 3.1.

District of Columbia administrative law

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