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Another $54 Million Lawsuit: No Pants This Time

What has Roy Pearson wrought?

Who knew that a year after the $54 million pants suit (yes, it was originally $65 million, but who's counting?), the cool thing to do would be to sue folks for $54 million? Heck, a dispute is hardly worth talking about unless you've got a $54 million lawsuit ready to roll behind it.

Now comes Raelyn Campbell, a District resident who has slapped Best Buy, the big appliance and electronics retailer, with a $54 million suit because the store supposedly lost the customer's laptop computer, which she had put in for repairs.

(Meanwhile, our good friend Mr. Pearson, who lost his case against the neighborhood dry cleaners after they purportedly lost his pants, has been stripped of his job as a D.C. administrative law judge and is, natch, appealing his case with his customary zeal.)

Campbell lays out her suit in extraordinary detail on, of course, her own blog, where she presents the horrifying tale of, yes, "the reprehensible state of consumer property and privacy protection practices at America's largest consumer electronics retailer."

The case in two sentences:

Campbell alleges that last year, after she left her malfunctioning 'puter at the Best Buy in Tenleytown for service, it was stolen, or as the aggrieved customer puts it, Best Buy "allowed my computer to be stolen," "tried to cover up the theft," and responded to pleas for help "with indifference and insults." Best Buy counters that they're sorry, but bad things happen, and hey, as a company spokesman has been telling reporters, Campbell "was offered and collected $1,110.35" as well as "a $500 gift card for her inconvenience."

Campbell says the payment from Best Buy was transferred into her credit card account without her knowledge or approval (ok, I lied: three sentences.)

The good news here is that Campbell readily concedes that $54 million is an unreasonable demand. The bad news is that the case is in your D.C. Superior Court, where you are paying for this silliness.

I spoke to Christopher Manning, who defended the Chung family, the victim and dry cleaners owner in the Pearson lawsuit, and together we lamented what Pearson has unleashed upon the world.

"The notion that the frivolity of Pearson v. Chung could have spawned copycats is disheartening," Manning says. "In my experience, reasonable minds agree that lawsuits seeking a recovery so grossly out of proportion to any alleged injury actually suffered do nothing but harm to all those involved and to the credibility of the legal system in general. My expectation is that the long term lesson from Pearson v. Chung and any of its unwanted progeny will be that these types of ridiculous claims are ill-advised, do not pay and ultimately have no place in our civil justice system."

I hope he's right, but I wouldn't bet even my slowly-dying, decade-old Honda on it. (Hey, the bushings are going bad--shouldn't I sue? Rule #623 of life: When the mechanic uses the word "bushings," it's time to make the rounds of those nice car salesmen.)

Campbell, perhaps following the path blazed by Pearson, is representing herself. She is a fan of ALL CAPS in her letters. She seems to have a lot of time to work on this matter.

But unlike Pearson, she seems to realize the central absurdity of her crusade. She gives Pearson his props in a letter to Best Buy that she copied to the District's Attorney General: Explaining her $54 million claim, she writes, "You will note that this is approximately the same amount requested in the now-infamous 'Pants Suit Judge vs. Mom-and-Pop Drycleaners' case.... I will be the first to admit that it is an absurd amount of money. However, I chose this amount for two reasons. First, I have no clue what amount of money might be sufficient to persuade Best Buy to reassess its ways and implement adequate policies and procedures to more effectively safeguard future customers' property....

"Second, I have chosen this amount with the hope that it will generate interest among the media."

That's where I get off this choo-choo. Yes, I have fallen for Campbell's gambit. Yes, as Supreme Chronicler of The Pants Suit--I know this because Korean TV crews keep interviewing me about the case, even all these months later (I had one at the office the other day who said he was from the Korean 60 Minutes, which, for reasons that didn't quite make it through the translator, apparently runs about four hours)--I feel a moral obligation to provide reasonable updates on all things pants.

So here you have it. But I am finished with this one. (Unless it gets really juicy or something.) (You know how these things are.) (Declining industry and all that.) (Competitive pressures.) (The usual excuses.) Ok, you can go back to the primaries now.

By Marc Fisher |  February 14, 2008; 11:53 AM ET
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I think the courts should subject Raelyn Campbell to a Physical Challenge. If she can carry $54 million in one-dollar coins from the Tenleytown Best Buy store to her home, on foot, in Best Buy plastic bags, then she gets to keep the money. Otherwise, she gets nothing. There should be a reasonable time limit as well - maybe one hour for every quarter-mile between her home and the store.

This event may create the sufficient level of publicity that Ms. Campbell is looking for.

Posted by: That's Entertainment! | February 14, 2008 1:27 PM

Best Buy should obviously be punished for what they did. Stop doing business in the District! Its residents don't deserve places to buy things.

Posted by: athea | February 14, 2008 1:36 PM

She and Pearson should open their own law office together and name it Dumb and Dumber, LLC.

Posted by: MD | February 14, 2008 1:50 PM

Is this Bozo related to the lawyer Bozo?

Posted by: Just another Commie | February 14, 2008 4:31 PM

This lady is getting unfairly lumped in with Pearson. Identity theft is a big deal and Best Buy did not take her seriously. In fact it has tried to belittle her with a 500 dollar gift card, which is almost equally absurd.

The time spent to recover an Identity is very long and Best should have to seriously pay for not just losing the laptop, but for the blatant cover up as well. I think 50- 100 K would be a reasonable message to send that covering up the loss of PII by a tech company (with their idiot geek squad) is not acceptable.

If your going to call yourselves experts, act like it.

Posted by: Jon | February 14, 2008 4:59 PM

What you didn't explain to the Korean news folks is that Pearson was probably also being racist. I suspect a component of his lawsuit was to drive "those people who come into our neighborhood and make money off of us" At that he suceeded. Like Andrew Young's comments about Asians selling rotting produce we're not supposed to talk about things like that.

Posted by: jhtlag | February 14, 2008 5:36 PM

She was unfairly/unprofessinally treated and Bestbuy should be punnished. Perhaps this media-tactic is a good idea. It is about time the media do something good for a change.

Posted by: David | February 14, 2008 5:59 PM

"The good news here is that Campbell readily concedes that $54 million is an unreasonable demand. The bad news is that the case is in your D.C. Superior Court, where you are paying for this silliness.", you have paid and will continue to pay many tax dollars into and because of D.C. Superior Court, and that will happen regardless of what happens with this case. She could have sued BB for $5.4M, $540k etc whatever. Even $54. None of that has any bearing on DC as a whole, nor will it affect the influence of the DCSC on the city or the nation as a whole. The DSCS is a autocratic monolith run by 20 or so "judges for life" (not to mention the temporary administrative judges) who have complete control over anyone involved with any case that is filed with the court. It will get its tax dollars regardless, and regardless of whether this case is thrown out on its face or not, those tax dollars will be spent, largely at the whim of those 20-odd judges.

Just remember that the judge in Mr. Pearsons' case let him drone on and on with a ridiculous claim, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to the defendants. She did so not only "to make sure that he had his fair day in court" but because he was a *judge*. And she was not about to just summarily dismiss a claim brought by a fellow judge.

You would not believe how much power these judges have, or how much respect they show to each other, regardless of whatever else they have done or said. It is the ultimate "strawman" institution. If a judge says something, it not only must make sense, but it very likely is true, as well.

This case may very well be dismissed on its face for the amount of the claim but that doesn't mean that they will not take a claim for a lesser amount seriously, and it might even be taken seriously as-is. It all depends on what was on the laptop, and it depends on how much publicity (legal and otherwise) can be milked from the case.

But "cost to the taxpayer" is hardly a concern for a DCSC judge. The *last* thing that they are worried about.

Posted by: jfc1 | February 14, 2008 6:02 PM

People, people. Not to go all legal on you, but what we have here is a bailment, which is subject to certain conditions, said conditions usually being contained on the paperwork the bailee receives when he or she dropped off their personal property. That paperwork, which is standard in the computer repair biz, clearly absolves Best Buy of liability for data contained on the hard-drives of computers that it may lose or are destroyed. Without such a provision, you couldn't get anyone, even small Mom & Pop businesses to repair computers. Best Buy says it gave her the paperwork, she says they never did and that they're lying and re-creating paperwork (presumably with her "forged" signature on it) in the file to cover their behinds.

Now, let me ask you one simple question -- which are you willing to believe: that a large corporation would risk criminal fraud and forgery charges to cover up a liability of < $2000, or that a woman crazy enough to sue for $54 million for a lost computer might be, you know, fibbing a little, about whether she has was given the proper paperwork which clearly limits her ability to prosecute said $54 million lawsuit.

Even discounting an evil motive on the part of foaming-at-the-mouth crazy lady, isn't it also entirely possible that she (conveniently) just can't find the paperwork? And her not being able to find her copies doesn't equate to Best Buy never having given them to her. Her story, as inflammatory as it is, just doesn't add up to a provable legal case.

Also, if you read her blog, you discover that she broke a number of rules and procedures relating to serving the lawsuit on the defendants. As someone who almost had a default judgment entered against him in a frivolous lawsuit because a process server lied, under oath, about personally handing the lawsuit papers to "a woman identifying herself as defendant's mother" (at a time when my real mom had been dead for 3 years), I can tell you that the rules requiring personal service exist for a reason. If for no other reason, her BS lawsuit should be dismissed as to the defendants who weren't personally served a copy of the lawsuit.

Posted by: Unbelievable | February 14, 2008 6:27 PM

While I can admit that the lawsuit probably has little to no grounds I will have to say that Best Buy does need to revamp many of their business policies. When I was in high school (read 4 years ago) many of my friends worked at Best Buy and readily admitted to stealing merchandise. Not just DVDs or video games either. They would take PDAs, computers and the like from the customer service desk. If an item was returned opened it was just placed in a bin and apparently their was no record of what was in the bin so store staff would take what they pleased from it. I am sure this is what happened to this lady's computer and it is a shame that the Best Buy did not treat her better for their mistake. They really do need to seriously rethink their store policies if things like this are the norm.

Posted by: Brian | February 14, 2008 6:47 PM

Best Buy is a stunningly bad company, from a customer service point of view. They are legendary for things just like this - letting people's equipment get stolen, taking months to repair a laptop, etc.

A simple Google search for "Best Buy sucks" will turn up countless examples of how bad they are.

I myself have seen Best Buy employees blatantly lie to people about capabilities of HDTVs and the like.

Sure, $54 million is a joke. But honestly it'll take a million dollar verdict to make Best Buy change their ways.

Posted by: Hillman | February 14, 2008 8:40 PM

I agree with Mr. Fisher: $54 million is ludicrous and nonsensical. Rather, she should have sued Best Buy for 42: that is, $42 million--the ultimate answer to all her life's questions and financial needs.

Posted by: Dr. Serendipitous | February 14, 2008 11:36 PM

Marc, you are missing the mark.

If she didn't "abuse" the court with this lawsuit and followed your recommended approach, no one would have heard about it and Best Buy would have no reason ever to change.

I am so glad that she filed this law suit with this amount. It is being reported all over the places, isn't it? Isn't it right for all of the world to be made aware of Best Buy's practice? She is doing a service for all of us.

If I were on the jury, I would give her $540 million, unless you can suggest any real way to have Best Buy change its well reported abuses.

Posted by: DJ | February 15, 2008 1:37 AM

Any moron should know that a big box store, filled with low paid workers, will most definitely have bad customer service practices and employees that steal anything they can get their hands on! If you want it done right, go to the pros and pay the big bucks! Otherwise take you cheap arse lumps and get over it!

Posted by: PeopleAreStupid | February 15, 2008 5:31 AM

Sadly, the only reason why retailers will provide the better service is the threat of these crazy lawsuits. Other than the amount drawing attention, do not ignore the merits of her suit. this is not a minor issue. if it were my laptop my taxes for the past 4-5 years would be on the hard drive, unprotected. Credit card and bank account numbers and many financial and personal documents.

Posted by: RobGreg | February 15, 2008 10:21 AM

Anyone who types in ALL CAPS either 1) used to write editorials for Hearst newspapers when W.R. was still alive (and he passed on in 1951), or 2) is incapable of measured, rational thought.

Posted by: Vincent | February 15, 2008 11:33 AM

After having read similar stories over the last few years with respect to the customer service (an oxymoron to be sure) meeted out by big box stores, Ms. Raelyn Campbell has acted in such a totally respectful capacity to date that it is almost surreal. The 54 million, as she has stated repeatedly, is only to get the firm in question to notice; evidently they are totally uncommunicative otherwise.
Make no mistake; the big box is totally out of line here. 250K would be probably be appropriate, as the lady has done everything properly and in her own words, postulates that the 54M was only for exposure. But anything less and the firm will brush the next one aside. The firm has to feel enough pain to change it's ways; otherwise, it's business as usual, and that is bad news for the rest of us. As Campbell has also stated previously, this whole case is about the firm changing it's ways and becoming more customer focused. Pity it has to be done through courts! Why doesn't everybody just stop shopping there for six months? That should do it.

Posted by: The Pundit | February 15, 2008 6:57 PM

Recently I bought an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier from Best Buy in Rockville and paid for it by credit card. The arrangement was that Best Buy was going to ship it to me, since it is too large to bring home by bus. The device was never delivered, and Best Buy FLATLY REFUSED to reimburse me for the item. Needless to say, I am no longer a Best Buy customer.

Thomas L. Jones, PhD, Silver Spring

Posted by: Thomas L. Jones, PhD | February 17, 2008 2:05 PM

By acknowledging that the amount she's asking is ridiculous, Ms. Campbell is practically begging, "Your Honor, please cite me for abuse of legal process!"

I'm not understanding what it is that she or some of the commenters expect Best Buy to change, exactly. They don't like having their own merchandise stolen either, I'm sure, and they certainly didn't like having to fork over the cost of a new computer for Ms. Campbell. I do think they should have offered an additional amount acknowledging the gross inconvenience and the value of lost information, and if she thinks that the cost of that inconvenience and the value of the lost information is high then she ought to sue for a commensurate amount, instead of a gigantic amount as though some grand principle were at stake.

Posted by: Ed Grogan | February 19, 2008 7:42 AM

Your article incorrectly draws parallels for numerous reasons. Frankly, if you have ever shopped at BB, you would understand. BB is arrogant and does not have basic customer service. I challenge you to get someone on the phone at geek squad (BB's repair divison). Most of us do not have multiple computers with data backup. Having the computer lost is more than replacing a piece of equipment. What you you do if your computer was broken? Lastly, this is a case of the little person taking on the big chain store that does not care. This is not case of an arrogant attorney trying to crush the small business owner.
Anyone that has ever had a problem with BB or geek squad probably has sympathy for this poor woman.

Posted by: bob | February 19, 2008 12:43 PM

"Any moron should know that a big box store, filled with low paid workers, will most definitely have bad customer service practices and employees that steal anything they can get their hands on! If you want it done right, go to the pros and pay the big bucks! Otherwise take you cheap arse lumps and get over it!"

I gotta say I agree with this. The Best Buy in Reston made national news years ago when it had a customer arrested for writing down prices of merchandise; he was comparison shopping and wanted to get the best price, as we all do. It's all well and good that this woman thinks she's bringing attention to a problem but it's been common knowledge for years that Best Buy sucks. What she is doing, as someone noted, is practically begging to be prosecuted herself abuse of legal process.

I would have more sympathy for her if she hadn't taken the money that Best Buy gave her, but you can't take a settlement, which is basically what the money was, then turn around and sue anyway.

Posted by: why is anyone still shopping at Best Buy? | February 19, 2008 12:51 PM

Pearson didn't start anything. Frivolous lawsuits have been going on forever. Some are even won.

Posted by: Kevin | February 20, 2008 8:01 AM

Frivolous lawsuits are already prohibited and the people who file them and/or their attorneys are subject to sanctions and discipline. Many cases are not frivolous, but seem bizarre or rediculous in one way or another. The media plays a big role in this. Everyone remembers the millions awarded over McDonald's hot coffee, (The award ended up much, much less.) or the S.F. cable car accident that turned a woman into a nymphomaniac. Cases like this make big news. What doesn't make the news is the vast majority of lawsuits that are legitimate, fair and reasonable or the millions of customers who have had to suffer inconvenience, loss of property, etc with little recourse because the amount was not big enough to go to court over?

Everybody likes to blame the attorneys, until they need one.

Posted by: Randal | February 26, 2008 1:05 PM

this is weird

Posted by: looser face | February 26, 2008 1:30 PM

Seems as if everyone readily agrees that BB is a bad place. Why do all these people continue to shop there? Even without the lawsuit, if the customers stayed away in droves, management would get the hint. That's the way it works in retail.
Personally, I'd like to see a decline in the volume of lawsuits. This one would be great to dismiss as frivolous.

Posted by: Pam | February 27, 2008 8:31 PM

This is one case against a big company, but this kind of silly lawsuits can really hurt small business owners-whom provide the jobs to the people in the neighborhood. They are just hurting their own people. The whole judicial system is a JOKE if this is still going on after the laundromat case!
It'll also make the D.C. judges retards to say the least. - see whose hurt by law suite abuse - we all lose!

Posted by: Retarded DC Judges | April 5, 2008 11:03 PM

What Best Buy did was totally uncalled for and unprofessional. They should not get away with it.
Campbell readily admits that the $54 million is a ridiculous amount, but she deserves a decent amount of money and Best Buy should overcompensate because of their horrible customer service.

Does anyone know what ended up happening?

Posted by: janae | April 8, 2008 11:18 PM

Everyone knows not to leave any serious data on a P.C. This is why Best Buy sells external drives and memory cards. This is like taking the car to a car wash, leaving lots of cash on the front seat and blaiming the owner because the money is missing. Expecting others to be smarter and more deligent with ones private data is immature. Unfortunately, immatue is a condition one can attach to too many Americans today.

Posted by: AMTR | April 14, 2008 12:40 AM

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