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The Pants Watch Never Stops

Pay no mind to those presidential campaigns--elections come and go. The big story is with us eternally: The $54 Million Pants Suit this morning reached all the way up to the top floor of the D.C. Superior Court building, to the District's Court of Appeals.

There, Roy Pearson, the man who loved his pants perhaps too well, pushed his battle to redefine "Satisfaction Guaranteed" to the city's highest legal authority, as a three-judge panel heard oral arguments in Pearson's three-year-old case against the dry cleaners that purportedly lost a pair of his trousers.

Wearing a trim, well-fitted dark blue suit--no cuffs, a somewhat awkward hem job on the jacket--Pearson barely got 30 seconds into his allotted half-hour of argument when the judges started to pepper him with questions. There was no doubt left today that the judges--Michael Farrell, Noel Kramer and Phyllis Thompson--are not buying Pearson's notion that a shop sign that promises "Satisfaction Guaranteed" means that a merchant must honor any cockamamie demand that an unhappy customer might make.

With the Chung family--owners of Custom Cleaners, the Northeast Washington shop that Pearson's lawsuit drove out of business--sitting two rows behind him, Pearson insisted as he has for years that "This is not a case about a pair of suit pants." Rather, he said, he fights for a clear statement from the courts that businesses that promise total satisfaction must do so without any conditions, or else be guilty of deception.

In his appeal, Pearson, who has lost his job as an administrative law judge in the D.C. government, argues that Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff botched his case when she ruled against him last year. Pearson says he should have been given a jury trial even though he missed the deadline for requesting one, and he argues that the judge erred in rejecting his claim to be a "private attorney general" fighting on behalf of the entire city against the vagueness of "Satisfaction Guaranteed" signs everywhere.

Pearson again today described the cleaners' sign as "so inherently deceptive." He claimed that he later discovered that Custom Cleaners had 13 hidden conditions on that guarantee, such as the fact that customers making a claim had to fill out a form (oh, my!) and even had to make their claim within a certain time frame (unheard of!).

So what? was the judges' reaction to that argument. "Certainly you're correct that there is no obligation of the consumer to read the mind of the person making the promise of 'Satisfaction Guaranteed,'" said Judge Farrell. But doesn't the law really depend on all parties considering what is reasonable? Can you really be arguing that the true meaning of the sign "depends entirely on what the consumer interprets it to mean?" Farrell asked.

All three judges were repeatedly frustrated by Pearson's inability to offer a direct answer when asked if he is arguing that any merchant who offers satisfaction must therefore bow to any customer's demand for damages, no matter how absurd.

Judge Thompson repeatedly tried to get Pearson to name some case, some legal authority, backing up his view of the meaning of "Satisfaction Guaranteed," but Pearson did not satisfy her.

"Why isn't this simply a contract dispute," Farrell asked, in which "you sue them in small claims court and you have an objective determination of your loss? Where is the fraud?"

The judges showed little patience for Pearson's version of the pants story. When Pearson slipped in a reference to his having been banned from the dry cleaners following a previous dispute, Judge Kramer interrupted: "Actually, they didn't ban you, did they? They might have liked to, but they didn't, right?"

Pearson backed down a little, conceding that he left the store but then contending that his business was not welcome there again until he wrote the Chung family a letter "demanding that they accept me."

Pearson's central argument today appeared to be that shopkeepers have a duty to spell out in extreme detail every possible condition that might apply to any guarantee of satisfaction with their goods or services.

Did this mean, Farrell asked, that merchants must assume that unhappy customers may make demands for satisfaction in which "the sky's the limit?"

"In terms of the demand, not the result," Pearson replied, in his typically cryptic manner.

The Chungs' lawyer, Christopher Manning--who is handling the appeal without charge because the family of Korean immigrants has been largely wiped out by the expenses they've incurred in defending themselves against Pearson's suit--didn't need to do much. Nor did the judges have much in the way of questioning for him. Manning merely reiterated what Bartnoff concluded in her decision at the trial: The Chungs did not set out to deceive Pearson, they have contended throughout that they have his pants, and it was Pearson who acted unreasonably by refusing to accept the pants.

"In fact, they offered the appropriate pair of pants," Manning said. To accept Pearson's argument would be to conclude that "a new customer could come in to Custom Cleaners and say 'Where are my pants?' and if Custom Cleaners says 'You never dropped off any pants,' they would nonetheless have to accede to his demands--for, for example, $54 million."

The key to the case, Manning argued, is reasonableness, and Roy Pearson is anything but a reasonable man. To accept Pearson's view would be, as a New York court ruled in a similar case, to unleash a tidal wave of litigation--any promise of satisfaction by a business is obviously governed by a standard of what's reasonable.

In the end, the Chungs acted reasonably, Manning said. "My clients have his pants. They're ready to be picked up by Mr. Pearson."

"An opinion will be issued in due course," Judge Kramer said at the end of today's hour of argument. That's likely to mean two to four months.

Pearson would not answer any questions as he left the courtroom. "Said it all on the podium," he said. Asked what he now does for a living, he said, "No comment." He took the stairs down six flights to avoid reporters.

The Chungs still operate one small store near the Washington Convention Center; they were forced to close their other two shops to pay their legal bills.

"Hopefully this is the last episode of this 31/2 year saga," Manning said.

Jin and Soo Chung declined to answer questions after the court session, except in Korean to Korean TV reporters. Those reporters said Jin Chung expressed his confidence that the court will rule in his favor and his relief that his ordeal is nearing an end.

There is only one appeal from the D.C. Court of Appeals, and that is to the U.S. Supreme Court. Stand by: The Pants Watch never stops.

By Marc Fisher |  October 22, 2008; 12:46 PM ET
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Comments

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OK folks, here's the deal:

Any time we are in a business that is displaying "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and Mr. No-Pants is present, I proposed we DEMAND that he be biach-slapped into a unconsciousness in order for us to be "Satisfied".

After all, he can't complain because, in his opinion, it's the law.

Posted by: DC Voter | October 22, 2008 1:26 PM

Pearson actually wrote the Chungs and "demanded" that they accept his business AFTER he had already sued them? WTH? This man clearly needs mental help.

Posted by: Disbelief | October 22, 2008 1:50 PM

Actually this guy is exactly the type of judges that DC hires for its Administrative Court. Arrogant and incompetent. Just look at the DC Court of Appeals Web site and look under Decisions with a AA in them. Then look at how many remands and reversals they have. Some where around 8 of every 10 published decisions that they issue get reversed or remanded.

Posted by: Dc Govt | October 22, 2008 1:52 PM

It's incredible that this guy could ever be a judge. Absolutely appalling. And a perfect example of why I'll never live in the district. He should be stripped of everything he has & have it given to the Chungs. I can't even imagine what it must be like for them to have this little vindictive man force them to the brink of solvency all because he basically doesn't have anything else to do. Thank god he's not on the bench anymore (tho I hear he's also suing to get that job back).

Posted by: oldtown | October 22, 2008 2:07 PM

This man has too much free time on his hands. Or he's short of cash.

Posted by: dewdrop 2 | October 22, 2008 2:07 PM

Why would he go back to a place he clearly was not wanted? There must be 28 other dry cleaners nearby that would have been happy to have his business.

Posted by: DC | October 22, 2008 2:17 PM

If ever there was a reason for a public whipping...

This man is beyond ludicrous

Posted by: Frank | October 22, 2008 2:26 PM

Sounds to me like the simple solution is to remove the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign. Ever been the 12th person in line at the Walmart with the "Speedy Checkout Guaranteed" sign hanging above your head?

Posted by: cjc | October 22, 2008 2:45 PM

Why would he go back to a place he clearly was not wanted? There must be 28 other dry cleaners nearby that would have been happy to have his business.

Posted by: DC | October 22, 2008 2:17 PM

=====

Part of his ridiculous contention for $54M is that by refusing his business, he was forced to travel a significant distance to another dry cleaner to have his suits dry cleaned. Having no car, he included cab fare something like three times per week to and from another dry cleaner that was across town.

Yes, he has a screw loose and his idea of logic is amazingly and depressingly absent.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | October 22, 2008 2:54 PM

Like many parasitic tort lawyers, Roy Pearson was a pathetic and litigious man long before he encountered the Chungs. And if he doesn't take his own life sooner (he's a seriously troubled man), he's likely to remain a pathetic and litigious man long after his vindictive "pantsuit" recedes from memory.

In the meantime, if Mayor Fenty, Council Chair Gray and the rest of the D.C. Council want to protect other small business owners from such flagrant lawsuit abuse, they should enact some reasonable reforms to the District's well intentioned but loosely worded and easily exploited Consumer Protection and Procedures Act.

Minimal reforms should include:

-Requiring plaintiffs to prove that they actually relied on a supposedly fraudulent or deceptive advertisement or representation (Pearson’s claim against Custom Cleaners alleged that the display of a common "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign somehow constituted a willful fraud punishable by a mind-boggling and potentially bankrupting civil damages award), and

-Limiting plaintiffs’ claims for damages to out-of-pocket costs, except in cases when it can be proved that a defendant’s actions were knowingly and willfully fraudulent or deceptive (Pearson’s out-of-pocket costs, at most, would have included the price of a replacement suit, alterations and any reasonable legal expenses).

Posted by: mckdarrenDC | October 22, 2008 2:55 PM

Well, well, well...Homey the Clown is back, huh? I would suggest a lobotomy but there may not be enough gray matter to remove. The court should require Pearson to undergo psychological counseling before he wastes anyone elses time.

Posted by: Maryland | October 22, 2008 3:10 PM

Stephen King could make a horror movie out of this idiot's actions. Pearson would turn into a foaming-at-the-mouth maniac and wreck havoc on everyone. Wait, he's already doing that. Look at all the royalities he's missing.

Posted by: Shoot Him Already | October 22, 2008 3:31 PM

I think the panel's decision, when rendered, should include court-mandated hospitalization for Judge Roy. Jonathan Lee Riches(the N.C. inmate that keeps filing inane lawsuits against famous people) has a firmer grasp on reality than Pearson.

Posted by: Bruce | October 22, 2008 4:37 PM

54 million for a pair of pants? Haven't the courts in this matter considered Rule 11 sanctions against Mr. Pearson. The law is not a tool for petty vindictive people to use to satisfy their every perverse whim. There are tools available to stop Mr. Pearson. Mr. Pearson should be ordered to pay all of the Chung's legal expenses and enjoined from pursuing any further actions against them.

Posted by: Idaho lawyer | October 22, 2008 4:51 PM

54 million for a pair of pants? Haven't the courts in this matter considered Rule 11 sanctions against Mr. Pearson? The law is not a tool for petty vindictive people to use to satisfy their every perverse whim. There are tools available to stop Mr. Pearson. Mr. Pearson should be ordered to pay all of the Chung's legal expenses and enjoined from pursuing any further actions against them.

Posted by: Idaho lawyer | October 22, 2008 4:52 PM

Couple of yersa ago I was sued by a overweight church pastor in SE whose church is next door to the 7th District Police Station for $12 million dollars becasue she claimed I slandered her. In short she was awarded one-hundred-dollars and no attorney fees becasue she would not erect a fence around her property..see Judy Talbert and Faith Tabernacle Church vs. Jacques Chevalier in DC Superior COurt and get laots of laughs.

She is still a menance to my apartment business and paid a lawyer $20,000, her own admission and could ahve been a good nighbor and erected a fence around her property. She is the same kind of person as ex-Judge Pearson and he is a sour-loser and abuser of the system just like this preacher who will probalby sue me after reading this post ...bring it on again lady!!! I paid her in nickels and dimes and threw it at her front church door and laughed and laughed at her and now I just act like I do not see or hear her and hope she see's God's will to put a fence around her church parking lot one day. But I will not hold my breath for she is not nice about compromising and I will pray for her and Judge Pearson if I move to Russia.

Posted by: Southeast Landlord | October 22, 2008 5:24 PM

I would suggest that the Chungs hold onto those pants until all of the trials are complete, and then sell them on ebay.

Posted by: jan | October 22, 2008 8:06 PM

The poor Chungs, it's so terrible that they're losing everything to this victimization.

Posted by: NW DC | October 22, 2008 10:09 PM

Why does this surprise anyone. The fool is an arrogrant punk with a juris doctor who thinks the world should katow to his demands! I work with attorneys and administrative judges and 98% of them are like Pearson. A few of the aj's and lawyers were complaining about the mechanics from hte local Mercedes dealership. They were surprised to find out the average journeyman auto tech at that dealership makes more than they do as
a govt employee. Guys they get half the labor rate and bill 40+ hours a week, and bonus and incentives.

Only individuals that come close to arrogance of lawyers and judges are service academy grads. they arent much better to work with.

Tough choice do I vote for an ambulance chasing scum sucking lawyer or a Depends wearing service academy grad? Why is Dick Cheney running!

And the JD stands for juvenile delinquent

Posted by: JD | October 23, 2008 7:30 AM

Pearson would have to pump up his litigation skills before he could even become a tort attorney. Sadly, he didn't even seem to meet the qualifications of an administrative judge.

It's a bald-faced ploy to keep from paying the fees that he owes the Chungs for the first go-round of this frivolous suit. Pearson's reluctance to let this go says more about his character and his lack of acumen to be a competent practicing attorney.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 23, 2008 9:10 AM

Don’t think me sympathetic towards Pearson, I am not. It’s just that in hearing this story over and over again, and in reading various reports on it, I am struck with the observation that the true nature of it all is being missed in the outrageous image of a well dressed and successful lawyer and judge chasing down millions of dollars for a pair of pants. It cannot be that simplistic.

The man is apparently well educated and was a successful lawyer and judge for twenty years. He’s even passed the bar exams to present cases before the US Supreme Court. He taught law, served on many community boards and charitable organizations and seemed to be doing well.

Then his marriage went awry. Reading about it rather sounds like it was all his doing, that his behavior went off the tracks and got, well, more than a bit odd. Judges in his many divorce proceedings cited him as being at fault and essentially trying to litigate the ever loving daylights out of simple and uncomplicated issues.

Then the pants business came about. He refused increasing amounts of money to settle, beginning at $1000 for the pants, then $12,000 for his damned pants. He broke down in court, crying and sobbing as he told the story of his lost pants. The trial had to take recesses to get him through the terrible trauma of talking about his lost pants.

Even after losing every case, every argument, even after being forgiven by the dry cleaners he’s still coming back at them. He’s still digging for the least point of law he can find to get satisfaction over a lousy pair of pants. He’s lost his rather well paying job over this dogged effort to destroy the people who have never been proved actually ever had his pants in the first place.

After all that, the question that comes to my mind is, in all this strange behavior, has anyone considered that he’s simply lost his mind? I mean, what sort of person puts this degree of effort into destroying another over so tiny and insignificant a disagreement? Would a sane person do this? Perhaps he’s experienced some form of mental illness or mental collapse? I wonder would a judge observing his actions have authority to order a mental health assessment?

Seems to me that one is needed most urgently

Posted by: Chris in Arizona | October 23, 2008 10:21 AM

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