DC judge loses $54 mln lawsuit over trousers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A judge in the U.S. capital lost his $54 million lawsuit on Monday against a dry cleaner over a pair of misplaced trousers in a case that became a symbol of the United States’ lawsuit-happy legal system.

A journalist (L) inspects a pair of pants at the center of a $54 million lawsuit, as dry-cleaning store owner Chung Jin-nam shows them off at a news conference outside his store in northeast Washington, June 25, 2007. A judge in the U.S. capital lost his $54 million lawsuit on Monday against a dry cleaner over a pair of misplaced pants and will have to pay the defendants' trial fees. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Roy L. Pearson, an administrative law judge in Washington, claimed that a “satisfaction guaranteed” sign in Custom Cleaners misled consumers who, like him, were dissatisfied with their experience.

The judge hearing the case ruled that Pearson did not interpret that sign in a reasonable fashion.

“A reasonable consumer would not interpret ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer’s unreasonable demands,” D.C. Judge Judith Bartnoff wrote.

Pearson must pay several thousand dollars in filing fees and other court costs incurred by the defendants, Bartnoff ruled.

The Chung family will also ask the judge to require Pearson to pay their legal bills, a sum defense attorney Christopher Manning said amounts to more than $100,000.

The case has drawn international media coverage, especially from the Chungs’ native South Korea, and widespread ridicule within the United States.

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“It’s been a very difficult two years,” owner Soo Chung said through an interpreter at a news conference outside her store in the city’s Fort Lincoln neighborhood.

As an administrative judge, Pearson hears cases involving the decisions of city government agencies. He could not be reached for comment.

Pearson asked the cleaners to pay him $1,150 when they misplaced a pair of trousers he brought in for a $10.50 alteration in May 2005.

The Chung family said Pearson refused to accept the trousers when they found them a few days later. Pearson said they were not his.

The slacks, gray with cuffs, were among the 70 items of evidence introduced at the two-day trial.

Pearson sought $1,500 for every day that Custom Cleaners displayed the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign during a four-year period, multiplied by the three defendants. He also sought $15,000 to rent a car to take his clothes to another cleaner for 10 years.

Pearson said during the trial he would keep $2.5 million for himself and use the remainder of the award to encourage others to file similar lawsuits.

Manning said the case should have been thrown out before it came to trial.

Despite the victory, the Chungs aren’t going to put their “satisfaction guaranteed” sign back up, Manning said.

“In order to avoid vexatious and frivolous lawsuits going forward, I think that sign is going to rest in peace,” he said.

Manning said he expects Pearson to appeal the decision.