Judge Rules In Favor Of Dry Cleaners In $54 Million Pants Lawsuit

Jim Avila, Chris Francescani & Scott Michels, ABC, June 25, 2007

A Washington, D.C., dry cleaning store that was sued for $54 million over an allegedly missing pair of pants will not have to pay anything to its disgruntled customer, a judge ruled Monday.

Instead, Roy Pearson, who sued over the missing trousers, may have to pay the store owners’ legal fees.

Washington Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff said Pearson had not proven that the Custom Cleaners dry cleaning shop had actually lost his prized pants.

She also said that Pearson’s theory that the owners owed him $54 million because they lost his pants despite a sign that ensures “Satisfaction Guaranteed” had no support in the law.

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The case gained national attention after the lawsuit was filed. Pearson, an administrative law judge, drew fire not only from an outraged public, but from trial lawyers and tort reform advocates across the country. The response to a story written about the case on ABCNEWS.com was so overwhelmingly in favor of the defendants that a defense fund for the dry cleaners was set up to accept online donations.

Defending themselves against the suit—for two years running—were Korean immigrants Jin and Soo Chung and their son, who own Custom Cleaners and two other dry cleaning stores in the Fort Lincoln section of Washington. The Chungs said they spent thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The judge ruled Pearson must pay the defendants’ court costs, which amount to about $1,000. Bartnoff said she would consider at a later date whether to make Pearson also pay the Chungs’ attorneys fees, which make up the larger portion of their legal fees.

“Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom,” Christopher Manning, the Chungs’ attorney, said in a statement. “Simply put, Judge Bartnoff got it right.”

An Emotional Trial

The trial proved nearly as dramatic—and unusual—as the plaintiff’s claims. On the witness stand, Pearson broke down in tears and had to take a break from his testimony because he became too emotional while questioning himself about his experience with the missing trousers.

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Repeatedly referring to himself as “we,” Pearson sought to present himself as the leader of a class of tens of thousands, if not a half million people, consisting of local residents he believes are at risk of falling for such insidious business practices as posting “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Same Day Service” signs. Pearson said at one point in court filings that he planned to call 63 witnesses.

“Mr. Pearson, you are not ‘we.’ You are an ‘I,’” Bartnoff told him.

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Lawsuit Is ‘Not Humorous’

Ironically, less than a week after Pearson dropped off the missing trousers in 2005, Soo Chung said she found them. She tried to return them to Pearson but he said they were the wrong pants.

The Chungs said they are certain they have located the missing trousers.

Before the end of the trial, the Chungs told ABC News that they have spent thousands of dollars defending themselves against Pearson’s lawsuit.

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“I would have never thought it would have dragged on this long,” she said. “I don’t want to live here anymore. It’s been so difficult. I just want to go home, go back to Korea.”

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pants

Roy L. Pearson—wearing pants.

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