- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An administrative law judge will not be getting $54 million for unsatisfactory service involving a pair of pants that needed alterations.

A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled yesterday in favor of a dry cleaner who was sued in a case that attracted international attention and renewed calls for litigation reform.

The owners of Custom Cleaners in Northeast did not violate the city’s consumer-protection law by failing to live up to Roy L. Pearson’s expectations of the “satisfaction guaranteed” sign that was once placed in the store window, Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff ruled.

Judge Bartnoff ordered Mr. Pearson to pay the court costs of defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung. The costs were more than $1,000 and include photocopying, filing and similar expenses, said the Chungs’ attorney. A motion to recover the Chungs’ tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees will be considered later.

Mr. Pearson, an administrative law judge, originally sought $67 million from the Chungs after he said they lost a pair of trousers from a blue and maroon suit, then later tried to return a pair of charcoal-gray pants that he said were not his. His claim was based on a strict interpretation of the city’s consumer-protection law — which imposes fines of $1,500 per violation — as well as damages for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney’s fees for representing himself.

In issuing her ruling, Judge Bartnoff wrote that Mr. Pearson failed to prove the pants the dry cleaner tried to return to him were not the pants he brought in for alterations.

“A reasonable consumer would not interpret ‘satisfaction guaranteed’ to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer’s unreasonable demands or to accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute,” she wrote.

Chris Manning, the Chungs’ attorney, praised the ruling.

“Judge Bartnoff has spoken loudly in suggesting that, while consumers should be protected, abusive lawsuits like this will not be tolerated,” Mr. Manning said. “Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom.”

Speaking to a gaggle of reporters from at least nine countries outside their dry-cleaning establishment yesterday, the Chungs said they held no hard feelings toward Mr. Pearson. “If he wants to continue using our services, then, yes, we will accept him,” Soo Chung, a Korean immigrant, said through a translator.

Mrs. Chung later told the Associated Press that at one point during the two-year nightmare, her mother-in-law called from Korea with a proverb: “Don’t feed hate with hate.”

“I decided to listen to my mother-in-law,” she said.

Mr. Pearson, who came to court during the two-day trial earlier this month carrying what he claimed was the pantsless jacket of the suit, did not respond to a telephone call and an e-mail seeking comment.

The trial drew a standing-room-only crowd, including many Korean and international press outlets covering the story.

The Chungs said the trial had taken a financial and emotional toll on them and exposed them to widespread ridicule.

Mr. Pearson has 30 days to appeal the ruling, according to the D.C. Superior Court. Should an appeal be filed, it would come under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Court of Appeals.

“This case was giving American justice a black eye around the world, and it was all the more upsetting because it was a judge and lawyer who was bringing the suit,” said Paul Rothstein, a Georgetown University law professor.

Mr. Rothstein said the ruling “restores one’s confidence in the legal system.”

Calls have come from around the world for Mr. Pearson to be disbarred and lose his position on the bench. The city’s chief administrative law judge is still considering Mr. Pearson’s 10-year reappointment.

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