A former administrative law judge who unsuccessfully sued a dry cleaner for $54 million over a pair of lost pants tried to convince an appeals panel Wednesday that he deserves the money because he is a fraud victim.
"This is not a case about a pair of suit pants," Roy L. Pearson argued before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Rather, it is about whether the owners of a neighborhood business misled consumers with a sign that claimed "Satisfaction Guaranteed," he said.
"There is an unconditional guarantee," he argued, unless the merchant indicates otherwise.
Pearson said the sign was deceptive and that the burden was on owners Jin Nam Chung and Soo Chung to explain whether the promise came with restrictions.
Pearson sued Custom Cleaners in northeast Washington in 2005 after claiming the Chungs lost a pair of trousers from a $1,100 blue and burgundy suit, then tried to give him a pair of charcoal gray pants that he said were not his. A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled against Pearson more than a year ago, awarding him nothing.
Christopher Manning, an attorney for the Chungs, said the business owners believe they did not lose the pants.
"My clients have his pants and they're ready to be picked up by Mr. Pearson," he said.
The three-judge appeals panel peppered Pearson with questions about whether he knew of other rulings in which a promise of "Satisfaction Guaranteed" meant that unsatisfied customers should be entitled to whatever damages they believe were appropriate.
"You've got to help us figure out what it means," Judge Phyllis Thompson said. "You haven't pointed me to a case which reaches a conclusion you would have us reach."
Pearson was unable to provide any examples, but maintained that his lawsuit had merit under the city's Consumer Protection Act.
Pearson had originally sued for $67 million. He reached the amount by adding up violations under the act and almost $2 million in common law claims. But he lowered the demands after deciding to no longer seek damages related to the pants, focusing instead on the sign.
Manning said the Chungs made a good-faith effort to accommodate Pearson by initially trying to settle with him. And he warned that more such frivolous claims would likely follow should the judges rule for Pearson.
The case has taken its toll on both sides. The Chungs have sold the dry cleaning shop, citing a loss of revenue and the emotional strain of defending the lawsuit. Pearson lost his job when a D.C. commission voted not to reappoint him.
Pearson quickly left the court after the hearing and would not stop to speak with reporters.
The appeals court is expected to rule in several months. If Pearson loses again, he could seek to have the case heard by the full court or appeal to the Supreme Court.
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