- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

A judge’s $54 million lawsuit against a dry cleaner over a pair of pants has caused a global guffaw.

But not everyone is laughing.

As Roy L. Pearson’s lawsuit against the immigrant-owned business has dragged on for two years, it has proven both burdensome and embarrassing to the court system. The suit, which initially asked for $67 million, also has taken a tremendous emotional and financial toll on the Chung family who owns the dry cleaner.

The South Korean family’s attorney, Chris Manning, says the case has ruined the Chungs’ lives. In fact, the stress of the litigation caused co-owner Soo Chung to drop three dress sizes, and now she is altering her own clothes. The family’s American dream to own a business has turned into “the American nightmare,” Mr. Manning said, and the Chungs are considering returning to Korea.

While the Chungs asked that the exact amount of their legal fees not be disclosed, Mr. Manning said a defense fund set up by family members has raised only a fraction of their costs, which run in the tens of thousands of dollars. The husband and wife also have had to endure the public spotlight.

Mr. Pearson would not comment about the effect of his lawsuit, but in an e-mail to the Associated Press, he blamed the Chungs for causing harm by posting what he considers misleading signs — including one that read “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”

It’s difficult to measure the lawsuit’s cost to city taxpayers, though D.C. Superior Court officials estimate the courtroom costs for last week’s two-day trial at $5,200. But that figure doesn’t include countless hours since 2005 spent by two judges and court clerks reviewing Mr. Pearson’s numerous court filings.

“Certainly, common sense tells us that any moment, any dollar, any dime spent by city taxpayers and city government in hearing a case like this is time and resources that aren’t being devoted to more serious, more important cases,” said Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association.

Mr. Pearson said that his problems with Custom Cleaners began in May 2005 when he brought in several suits for alterations. A pair of pants from a blue and maroon suit was missing when he requested it two days later. The Chungs say they found the pants soon after and tried to give them to Mr. Pearson, but Mr. Pearson insists the pair is not his.

Since then, the suit has sparked widespread outrage from legal groups and even bloggers, some of whom have said the pants case is further tarnishing the image of the American judicial system.

The National Labor Relations Board calls for Mr. Pearson to be disbarred and the tort reform group calls for him to be fired from his job as a D.C. administrative law judge.

The groups also hope that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council will consider amending the consumer protection act under which Mr. Pearson added up violations for thousands of dollars over several years to reach his multimillion-dollar figure.

Mr. McKinney said the law has been on the books since the 1970s and “predates the industrialization of personal injury litigation.” He said the law also lets people bring a claim without proving any injury.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, chairwoman of the Public Service and Consumer Affairs Committee, said she is not sure if the consumer protection law is being properly applied in this case.

“I doubt that it was the intent of the law to take a subjective consumer interpretation that he didn’t get what he wanted as an unfair trade practice,” she said. “But if that’s how people are interpreting it, I will look into it.”

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