Pearson v. Chung

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Pearson v. Chung
Court Superior Court of the District of Columbia
Full case name Roy L. Pearson, Jr. v.Soo Chung, et al.
Decided 2009
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Judith Bartnoff

Pearson v. Chung, better known as the "pants lawsuit",[1] is a civil case filed in 2005 by Roy L. Pearson, Jr., an administrative law judge in the District of Columbia in the United States, following a dispute with a dry cleaning company over a lost pair of trousers. Pearson filed suit against Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners in Washington, D.C., initially demanding $67 million for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney's fees for representing himself, as a result of their failure, in Pearson's opinion, to live up to a "satisfaction guaranteed" sign that was displayed in the store. The case drew international attention[2][3] when it went to trial in 2007 and has been held up as an example of frivolous litigation and the need for tort reform in the United States.[4]

Lawsuit[edit]

Pearson sued a D.C. dry cleaning establishment, Custom Cleaners, for over $67 million for the loss of a pair of pants. On May 3, 2005, Pearson allegedly left a pair of gray pants that could be distinguished by a unique trio of belt loops on both sides of the front waistband. After a delay due to the pants being mistakenly sent to another dry cleaners, the pants were offered back completed several days after May 5, 2005, the initial pickup date. Pearson refused to accept the pants, claiming they were not his, despite confirmation by the cleaners' records, tags, and Pearson's receipt. Pearson demanded what he claimed to be the price of the pants as compensation, an amount of over $1000, which the Chungs refused. As a result, Pearson filed suit in the District of Columbia's Superior Court. The judge to whom the case was presented decided to bring it to trial on the basis of two of Pearson's claims. The first claim was the issue of the ownership by Pearson of the presented pair of pants. The second claim was on the issue of signs posted outside the business, advertising "Same Day Service" and "Satisfaction Guaranteed", which Pearson claimed to be misleading.[5]

Over time, the Chungs presented three settlement offers in the amounts of $3000, $4600, and $12000, all of which were rejected by Pearson. D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz stated that "the court has significant concerns that the plaintiff is acting in bad faith." The judge resolved some of the issues in the Chungs' favor in response to their motion for summary judgment, which was filed at the close of discovery, but could not dismiss the case because some facts were in dispute.

The owners of the business, South Korean immigrants Jin Nam Chung, Soo Chung and their son, Ki Chung, were reportedly considering moving back to South Korea.[6] After an outpouring of support for the Chungs from members of the public, a website was set up to accept donations for the Chungs' legal defense.[7]

On May 30, 2007, Pearson reduced his demands to $54 million in damages rather than $67 million. Among his requests were $500,000 in attorney's fees, $2 million for "discomfort, inconvenience, and mental distress", and $15,000, which he claimed would be the cost to rent a car every weekend to drive to another dry cleaning service. The remaining $51.5 million would be used to help similarly dissatisfied D.C. consumers sue businesses.[8][9] Pearson also re-focused his lawsuit from the missing pants to the removal of window signs for "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service". Pearson claimed the signs represented fraud on the part of the Chungs. The Chungs' lawyer, Christopher Manning, alleged that the signs could only be considered fraud if a reasonable person would be misled by them, and that a reasonable person would not see the signs as an unconditional promise. The Chungs' lawyer portrayed Pearson as a bitter, financially insolvent man; under questioning, Pearson admitted that, at the start of the court case, he had only $1000–2000 in the bank due to divorce proceedings, and was collecting unemployment benefits.

Trial[edit]

On June 12, 2007, the trial began. Pearson broke down in tears during an explanation about his frustration after losing his pants, and a short recess had to be declared.[10]

Decision[edit]

On June 25, 2007, the trial ended with District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff ruling in favor of the dry cleaners, and awarding them court costs pursuant to a motion which the Chungs later withdrew.[11] The court took judicial notice of Pearson's divorce proceedings, where he was sanctioned $12,000 by the trial court for "creating unnecessary litigation and threatening both his wife, Rhonda VanLowe, and her lawyer with disbarment."[12][13]

Post-trial motions and appeal[edit]

Pearson made a motion on July 11, 2007 to reconsider in the trial court, stating that he felt the judge had "committed a fundamental legal error" and had failed to address his legal claims.[14] Pearson stated that he believed the court had imposed its own conditional interpretation of 'satisfaction guaranteed' rather than what Pearson believes is an offer of unconditional and unambiguous satisfaction. The court denied the motion.[15]

It was revealed on August 2, 2007 that a panel recommended Pearson not be given a ten-year term as an Administrative Law Judge, after his initial two-year term expired mid-2007, in part because his suit against Mr. Chung demonstrated a lack of "judicial temperament." Pearson was appointed in 2005 and stood to lose his $100,512 salary if a hearing upholds that decision.[16] On October 22, a D.C. commission voted against reappointing Pearson, a graduate of the Northwestern University School of Law, to the bench of the Office of Administrative Hearings.[17] On November 14, it was confirmed that Pearson had lost his job by not being affirmed for an extension.[18]

Roy Pearson filed suit against Washington, DC on May 2, 2008, claiming that he had been wrongfully dismissed for exposing corruption within the Office of Administrative Hearings. Pearson sought $1 million in compensation for lost wages and punitive damages as well as his job back.[19] On July 23, 2009, federal district judge Ellen Segal Huvelle dismissed Pearson's May 2008 lawsuit, claiming that the District of Columbia had not broken the law by not reappointing him as an administrative law judge. Pearson had maintained in the suit that the failure to reappoint him to the ten-year term was in part intended as retaliation for his suit against the dry cleaners.[20] Pearson lost his appeal when the D.C. Circuit ruled against him on May 27, 2010.[21]

The Chungs moved to recover $83,000 in attorneys' fees and impose sanctions, but withdrew the motion after recovering their costs through fund-raising. The Chungs stated that they did so in the hopes of persuading Pearson to stop litigating,[22] but on August 14, 2007, Pearson filed a notice of appeal.[22]

On September 10, 2008, an appellate court agreed to hear Pearson's appeal in P. v. Chung, scheduled for October 22, 2008. Manning represented the Chungs on the appeal pro bono. On December 18, 2008, the three-judge D.C. Court of Appeals panel that heard Pearson's appeal announced that they were rejecting it. According to the Washington Post, "Pearson has two remaining avenues of appeal left: He could ask the entire nine-judge appellate court to review the case, or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in."[23] On January 6, 2009, Roy Pearson filed a petition with the D.C. Court of Appeals, requesting the case be reheard this time by a nine-judge panel.[24] On March 2, 2009, the appeals court rejected his request to have the case reheard by the full panel. Pearson's final option was to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.[25] The 90-day deadline for seeking Supreme Court review elapsed without Pearson filing a petition for certiorari. Pearson's appeal options thus exhausted, the long-running dispute finally came to an end.

Cultural impact[edit]

The unusual circumstances of this case led the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and dozens of bloggers to refer to it as "The Great American Pants Suit",[26][27] and to Pearson as "Judge Fancy Pants".[28][29] The case has garnered considerable international attention. BBC News quoted Chris Manning, attorney for the Chung family, as saying that the experience for the Chungs has become the "American nightmare"—an ironic reference to the American Dream.[30] Fortune magazine listed the case at #37 in its "101 Dumbest Moments in Business" of 2007.[31] Cracked.com listed the case as "Exhibit 1" in its 2008 article "9 Insane Cases that Prove the US Legal System Is Screwed".[32]

On July 24, 2007, the American Tort Reform Association and the Institute for Legal Reform of the United States Chamber of Commerce hosted a fundraiser for the Chungs to help pay their attorneys fees that reported having raised up to $64,000.[33] The Chungs say they have received close to $100,000 from supporters to cover their attorneys' fees and lost business.[22]

On September 19, 2007, citing a loss of revenue and emotional strain from the lawsuit, the Chungs announced that they had closed and sold the dry cleaning shop involved in the dispute. The Chungs still owned one additional dry cleaning shop and stated that they would be focusing their attention and resources on their remaining shop.[34]

The incident and lawsuit served as a basis for "Bottomless", an 18th-season episode of Law & Order, which aired originally on 16 January 2008.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Paul Courson "Judge in pants lawsuit sues to get job back". CNN. 2008-05-02. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  2. ^ Lubna Takruri, "Judge Who Lost $54M Suit Not Giving Up Pants Fight", Associated Press, 2007-07-09
  3. ^ "Drycleaners win 'pants' suit". World News Australia. Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  4. ^ American Tort Reform Association, press release, 2007-06-25
  5. ^ Manning, Christopher. "The Facts of Pearson V. Chung". Manning Sossamon. Retrieved 2009-04-16. 
  6. ^ Associated Press (21 June 2007). "54 million dollars lawsuit against South Korean dry cleaner over pair of trousers is in full swing". pravda.ru. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "Custom Cleaners Defense Fund". Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  8. ^ Fisher, Marc (June 14, 2007). "Wearing Down the Judicial System with a Pair of Pants". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  9. ^ "Pants Extra: Inside the Courtroom". The Washington Post. June 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  10. ^ Fisher, Marc (June 13, 2007). "Judge Who Seeks Millions for Lost Pants Has His (Emotional) Day in Court". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-13. Before trial began yesterday in the case of the D.C. judge who sued his neighborhood dry cleaners after they lost his pants, the most extraordinary fact was Roy Pearson's demand for $65 million in damages. That was before Pearson, an administrative law judge, broke down while testifying about the emotional pain of having the cleaners give him the wrong pants. It was before an 89-year-old woman in a wheelchair told of being chased out of the cleaners by an angry owner. And it was before she compared the owners of Custom Cleaners in open court to Nazis. 
  11. ^ "Administrative Law Judge Loses $54 Million Pants Lawsuit". NBC4 (NBC). Retrieved 2007-06-25. A D.C. Superior Court judge has sided with the defendants in a $54 million lawsuit over a pair of pants. According to the judge's decision, the plaintiff, administrative law Judge Roy Pearson Jr., will take nothing from Soo Chung and Jim Nam Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners. 
  12. ^ Law.com - Ethics Complaint Filed Against Judge Over His $65M Suit Against Dry Cleaners
  13. ^ Roy L. Pearson, Jr. v. Rhonda S. Vanlowe
  14. ^ "Customer pursues $54M lawsuit against dry cleaners". CBC News (CBC.CA). 2007-07-12. Retrieved 2007-07-13. [dead link]
  15. ^ WUSA9.com | Washington, DC | Judge Refuses To Reconsider Ruling In Pants Case
  16. ^ Fisher, Marc. "First, Pants Man Loses Case. Next, His Job.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  17. ^ Alexander, Keith L. (October 23, 2007). "Judge Set to Lose Job, Sources Say". Washington Post. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Judge loses more than pants in lawsuit". Associated Press. November 14, 2007. 
  19. ^ Emil Steiner (2008-05-06). "Roy Pearson's Latest Lawsuit". The Washington Post. 
  20. ^ Wilber, Del Quentin (July 29, 2009). "Ex-Judge's Lawsuit Thrown Out". Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  21. ^ Koppel, Nathan (May 27, 2010). ""Pants Judge" Roy Pearson Strikes Out in Court". Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Retrieved July 26, 2010. 
  22. ^ a b c Henri E. Cauvin (2007-08-15). "Judge Who Filed Suit Plans to Appeal Defeat". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  23. ^ Alexander, Keith L. (December 18, 2008). "Appeals Court Rejects Request for New Trial in Pants Case". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-18. 
  24. ^ "Another hearing sought in missing pants case". Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  25. ^ "Pants Hearing Rejected". The Washington Post. March 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  26. ^ Rob Anderson (2007-06-26). "Today's Hot Topics". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  27. ^ "$67 million pants". The Wall Street Journal. 2007-06-26. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 
  28. ^ Lubna Takruri (Associated Press) (2007-06-27). "'Fancy pants' loses wacky lawsuit". IOL News (iol.co.za) (Independent News & Media). 
  29. ^ Lubna Takruri (Associated Press) (2007-06-26). "Judge sides with cleaner in pants suit". Deseret News. 
  30. ^ "US man loses $54m trousers claim". BBC News. June 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-15. 
  31. ^ "101 Dumbest Moments in Business". Fortune. December 19, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  32. ^ Luke McKinney (2008-06-12). "9 Insane Cases that Prove the US Legal System Is Screwed". Cracked.com website. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  33. ^ Support the Chungs
  34. ^ "Dry Cleaner in Pants Suit Closes (Associated Press)". Action News 6abc.com (WPVI-TV Philadelphia, PA). September 19, 2007. Retrieved 2011-06-25. 

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