May 04, 2007 04:30 AM
WASHINGTON–A missing pair of pants has led to one big suit.
A customer got so steamed when a dry cleaner lost his trousers that he sued for $65 million (U.S.). Two years later, he is still pressing his suit.
The case has demoralized the South Korean immigrant owners and brought demands that the customer – an administrative law judge in Washington – be disbarred and removed from office for pursuing a frivolous and abusive claim.
"They're out a lot of money, but more importantly, incredibly disenchanted with the system," said Chris Manning, lawyer for the owners. "This has destroyed their lives."
The customer, Roy Pearson Jr., who has been representing himself, declined to comment.
According to court documents, the problem began in May 2005 when Pearson became a judge and brought several suits for alterations to Custom Cleaners in Washington. A pair of pants from one suit was missing when he requested it two days later.
Pearson asked the cleaners for the full price of the suit: more than $1,000.
But a week later, the owners said the pants had been found and refused to pay. Pearson said those were not his pants and decided to sue.
Manning said the cleaners have made three settlement offers to Pearson: $3,000, then $4,600, then $12,000.
But Pearson was not satisfied and expanded his calculations beyond one pair of pants. Because he no longer wanted to use his local dry cleaner, he asked in his lawsuit for $15,000 – the cost of renting a car every weekend for 10 years to go to another business.
The bulk of the $65 million demand comes from Pearson's strict interpretation of Washington consumer protection law, which imposes fines of $1,500 per violation, per day. Pearson counted 12 violations over 1,200 days, then multiplied that by three defendants.
Much of Pearson's case rests on two signs Custom Cleaners once had on its walls: "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service." He claims the signs amount to fraud.
The case is set for trial June 11.
Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, an organization that fights what it considers abusive lawsuits against small businesses, has asked that Pearson be denied a renewal of his 10-year appointment. The association has also offered to buy Pearson a new suit.
Chief Administrative Judge Tyrone Butler had no comment on Pearson's reappointment prospects.
Melvin Welles, former chief administrative law judge with the National Labour Relations Board, wrote to The Washington Post to say that if he were the judge in the case, he would throw out the lawsuit and order Pearson to pay the dry cleaners for their legal expenses and their mental suffering. He also called for Pearson's ouster and disbarment.
"The manifest absurdity of it is too obvious to require explanation," he wrote.