The emperor’s new pants…

A reader sent me this crazy story about a US Judge, Roy Pearson, who is suing a drycleaning business for over US $65 million for losing a pair of gray pants. No, there’s no typo there, he really is suing for $65M+.

How did this arise? In early 2005, Pearson was appointed as an Administrative Law Judge for the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings, and wanted to alter his suits. On 3 May 2005, Pearson dropped off his pants at a dry cleaning business known as Custom Cleaners, run by Jin Nam, Ki and Soo Chung, immigrants from South Korea. Pearson put the pants in for alterations costing $10.50, and hoped that the pants would be ready by 5 May 2006, as he started his new job on 6 May. At that time, Custom Cleaners had two signs on its walls which read, “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” and “Same Day Service.” When he turned up on 5 May 2006, the pants were not ready. Soo Chung said they would be ready the next morning, but they could not be found. Pearson initially sought damages of $1,500, for the full cost of the suit.

Ironically, a week later, the Chungs found gray pants which have a tag matching Pearson’s ticket receipt. The measurements also match up to Pearson’s measurements. They phoned Pearson to let him know, and said that as the trousers had been found, they would not pay him the $1,500 he had requested. That’s when the problems started.

Pearson claims that the gray trousers are not his, and his original pair of trousers were gray with a red and blue pinstripe. He alleges that the Chungs have perpetrated fraud, negligence, and their claims of satisfaction guaranteed and same day service are a scam. Naturally, the Chungs have since taken down the signs.

How did he get to a claim of $65M, you might be wondering? Well, according to the initial article in The Washington Post

  • The consumer protection law of the District of Columbia provides for damages of $1,500 per violation per day. Pearson alleges that there were 12 violations over 1,200 days,  and that each of the three defendants should pay damages.
  • Pearson says that the Chungs should pay him the cost of hiring a car for every weekend for 10 years. He does not presently have a car, and he says that there is no other dry cleaner within walking distance. Therefore, he alleges that the Chungs’ negligence has caused him to have the need to hire a car every weekend so that he can drop his suits off at a different drycleaner.
  • Pearson says he should be compensated for his “mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort”.
  • He claims costs for the 1,000 hours representing himself.
  • Finally, he claims the cost of a new suit.
  • He also sought to prove violations of consumer protection laws on behalf of all residents in the District. Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz responded sharply, saying that “the court has significant concerns that the plaintiff is acting in bad faith” because of “the breathtaking magnitude of the expansion he seeks.”

The Chungs’ lawyer, Chris Manning, said that they had offered Manning said the cleaners made three settlement offers of $3,000, then $4,600, then $12,000. He says the Chungs are so dispirited that they are considering returning to Korea. The trial is due to proceed on 11 June 2007.

Former National Labors Relations Board chief administrative law judge Melvin Welles wrote a letter to The Washington Post:

“As a lawyer and former administrative law judge, I am particularly aggrieved by District administrative law judge Roy Pearson’s $65 million lawsuit against Custom Cleaners after the neighborhood dry cleaner misplaced one pair of his pants. The manifest absurdity of it is too obvious to require explanation.

If I were adjudicating the case, I would not only grant a motion to dismiss it but would also order Mr. Pearson to reimburse the owners of Custom Cleaners for all their expenses in defending it and to pay them several million dollars for their “mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort.”

I would also direct any bar to which Mr. Pearson belongs to immediately disbar him and the District to remove him from his position as an administrative law judge. Perhaps a class action by the D.C. Bar Association for the damage he has done to the legal profession might also be appropriate.”

The president of the American Tort Reform Association, Sherman Joyce, has written a letter suggesting that the Judges who are considering renewing Pearson’s 10-year appointment should not do so. The Association has also offered to buy Pearson the suit of his choice. The Chief Administrative Judge for the District of Columbia had no comment regarding Pearson’s reappointment. Mr Joyce says this is precisely the sort of vexatious tort litigation which needs to be curbed. He has also endorsed Melvin Welles’ comments in a letter to The Examiner.

One’s first reaction is to laugh with disbelief, but there is a very serious side to this story. I agree with Mr Welles; it is Pearson who should recompense the Chung family for mental anguish and suffering. This is a disgusting abuse of the legal system, and a clear instance of someone with legal knowledge using it to oppress and bully parties with less resources and money. Such a person is entirely unsuited for the position of judicial office. If Pearson has any decency (although I suspect he does not) he should step down from office. He is an embarrassment to lawyers everywhere.

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22 Comments

Filed under courts, crazy stuff, judges, law, tort law, USA

22 responses to “The emperor’s new pants…

  1. Wouldn’t this be a breach of ethics; using one’s position as an officer of the court to intimidate the dry cleaner?

  2. Linda Watters

    I too agree with Mr. Welles……and this man should not be allowed to hold such a position…..this is the most rediculous lawsuit above all others that I have read about. How in the world can this be allowed. Pearson showed us just what kind of person we would NOT want in our legal system.
    I don’t see how he had the guts to even persue this. Hope you get him out of there for the sake of ‘justice’
    And I hope the best for the Chung family.

  3. LDU

    No way in the world is he going to get $65m for a pair of pants.

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  5. Legal Eagle

    Iain, it seems to me that it is a total misuse of one’s position, but I don’t know how Administrative Law Judges are appointed in DC. It may be more political than on the basis of merit? That being said, it seems to me that you can’t just ignore the fact that this guy has bullied these poor drycleaners in a highly unethical way.

    Linda, I hope that they do refuse to renew his contract. I understand that someone is setting up a defence fund for the Chungs – I checked out the website for the defence fund, but it was still under construction. I’m guessing they’ll get a lot of donations.

    LDU, you’re right, there’s no way this guy could hope to get $65M. If I were the trial judge, I’d require him to pay the Chungs’ indemnity costs (or the US version thereof). I’d probably also register him as a vexatious litigant.

  6. The sad thing is that it’s the sort of thing that’ll be used by hacks such as the ATRA and unscrupulous prats like insurance companies to justify winding back the common law rights of the rest of us. (See: personal injuries litigation in Victoria.)

  7. fairlane

    I was born with a severe allergy to stupidity and may never fully recover from this. So, figuring that I’ll live at least 60 more years, which is 21,900 days, and at $45,000 per day (My allergy is so severe it contributes to Global Warming, and because I dated a girl who lived in France, which signed the Kyoto Agreement, I get 30 times the legal limit) that comes to $985,5oo,ooo. Do you know how to get hold of Mr. Pearson?

  8. Legal Eagle

    Lefty,

    I agree. It’s people like this who give tort litigation a bad name. That’s one of the reasons why I feel so very mad about it.

    A few months ago, a friend of mine was walking through a supermarket with her then newborn son in one of those slings on her front. A supermarket employee barreled out of a doorway without looking where he was going. He was wheeling one of those low trolleys and rammed into my friend’s legs. She went crashing to the ground, and her son went too. His nose was bleeding, his head was bruised, and he was crying hysterically. She was very badly shaken and bruised. What did the supermarket do? Absolutely nothing, from what I understand. No apology, no offer to pay for medical care, no flowers, no nothing. My friend’s sister took them to hospital, where they stayed for two nights under observation. In the event, both mother and son recovered fully.

    In the “bad old days” before tort law reform in Victoria, there’s no way the supermarket would have behaved like that. They would have been solicitous in the extreme, because they would have been afraid of being sued. Now — they just don’t give a sh*t, because they don’t have to care anymore, and they won’t tell their staff to take care when wheeling trolleys and look before they come out a door.

    On the other end of the spectrum, in a more mundane example than the one above, a colleague of mine encountered a woman who was suing the local council because she slid down a child’s slide at the park and hit her tailbone when she came off. She was 30 years old and inebriated at the time. The play equipment was clearly child-sized and not designed to be used by adults…

  9. Legal Eagle

    Fairlane,

    😀 Love it! Perhaps Mr Pearson could institute a class action which we could join?

    LE

  10. fairlane

    On a serious note, you’re correct they will use this to further restrict people’s rights to defend themselves. It’s the same thing they did with “Bankruptcy Reform”. They use extreme examples and then imply that they are actually the “status quo”. “Millions of people are going out getting ten credit cards, maxing them out, and then filing bankruptcy.” Same with “Tort Reform”.

    I thought “reform” meant “to improve” or “to upgrade”, but apparently it is just a euphemism for “sucker”. The thing that confounds me the most is how “Conservatives” were able to convince people this is what we needed. Many of these same people are the ones ripped off by corporations, who have no health insurance, etc.

    A “conservative” friend of mine spent 20 minutes explaining why we needed to do away with the “Death Tax”. Once he was finished I reminded him that before the “Reform” only people with estates worth more than $650,000 paid the Estate Tax, and that even then there were loopholes to get around it. He had no idea, and thought everyone who died paid the “Death Tax”. Very clever on the Rep’s behalf.

    This is why psychology interests me far more than politics. It’s like mass hypnosis. The slave master convincing the slaves he has their best interests at heart.

  11. I don’t know…

    I think I’m going to swim against the tide on this one.

    Ever been so frustrated at lousy customer service that you wanted to reach over the counter (or through the phone) and just throttle the incompetent bastards on the other side?

    Well, since you’d get yourself in a lot of trouble by actually doing it, usually you can’t do much more than stamp your foot and walk around with steam coming out of your ears all day.

    This guy has instead decided to funnel his anger into a lawsuit. He has no intention of genuinely trying to obtain $65 million but, rather, just wants to demonstrate the magnitude of his frustration.

    And it’s not like he won’t inconvenience himself in the process. After all, I don’t know how things work in the US re costs but, presumably, when the ultimate damages award is less than the offer of compromise, he’ll be up for costs from the point of the offer anyway.

  12. fairlane

    I understand being frustrated with customer service. Many companies today have terrible service because they simply don’t care. But you don’t sue them over a pair of pants or because they were rude. This hurts people who have legitimate claims because “Tort Reformers” use such cases as examples of how the System is “Out of Control”.

    If you receive unsatisfactory service you complain up the foodchain until you are satisfied or you stop visiting that establishment. For example, I’ve never shopped at Wal-Mart in my life, and God Willing I never will. They have abominable business practices, and I make sure to tell anyone who will listen about it. If more people shopped using their conscience instead of looking for “convenience”, many of these businesses would be forced to change. They care about the “Bottom Line”.

    Maybe my next piece will be about Wal-Mart. Thanks for the idea.

  13. fairlane

    Sorry, to hog so much space. But I just noticed the “Theme” for your blog was designed by “Chris Pearson”. Is he related to Roy?

  14. Fairlane, I hope he’s not related. I might find a law suit for $100M coming my way. Help!

    I agree with your point about customer service. It is very frustrating to be treated like rubbish but I don’t think that the response is to sue the company. We don’t have WalMart here, but I’ve been to one when I was in the US. Clearly very much aimed at the bottom line!

  15. David L. Hagen

    Chief Administrative Law Judge Tyrone Butler
    D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings
    825 N. Capitol Street, NE
    Washington, D.C., 20002 tyrone.butler@dc.gov
    Commissioners Robert Rigsby, Henry Levine, and Peter Wilner
    Commission on Selection and Tenure of Administrative Law Judges
    441 Fourth Street NW, Suite 540 S
    Washington, D.C. 20001 May 6, 2007

    Dear Judge Butler and Commissioners Rigsby, Levine and Wilner
    Re: Amicus Curiae petition to deny Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson’s Reappointment
    Grievance: As amicus curiae, I submit grievances that Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson has pursued a suit for $65 million against immigrants Jin, Ki and Soo Chung, for having misplaced a pair of his pants for one week. He rejected offers to settle for 30, 46 and 120 times the cost of his entire suit. He is demanding damages of 650 times his annual salary.
    I humbly submit that Judge Pearson appears to be blatantly denying justice to the poor, seeking to bankrupt aliens while lining his pockets at taxpayers expense. This degrades justice for all.
    Law: Being ‘entitle[d]’ by ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,’ 13 States established the USA by USC THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE – 1776.* The Founders appealed to the higher laws of the “Supreme Judge of all the world.” These were understood to include:
    “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” Exodus 23:6 NIV
    “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, . . .” Deuteronomy 24:17 NIV
    “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’” Zechariah 7:9 NIV
    “Woe to you, teachers of the law . . . you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23 NIV
    By Acts Enabling 13 States, all United States in Congress mutually required for ‘equal standing’ that their Constitutions and laws ‘shall not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.’++
    Judge Pearson’s actions are repugnant to these principles of justice and mercy. Pearson’s actions increase my chances of being sued and harm my probability of obtaining justice.
    Prayer: I humbly pray that you:
    1) Deny reappointment of Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson to a 10 year term.
    2) Recommend disbarment of Judge Roy Pearson for abuse of justice.
    3) Provide proportionality guidelines with severe penalties for such frivolous suits and abuse.
    4) Establish judicial guidelines upholding the first principles of USC THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE – 1776, as mutually required by all States for ‘equal standing’.
    5) Train judges to uphold these foundational principles of justice and mercy.
    Yours sincerely

    David L. Hagen
    61485 CR 13, Goshen IN 46526
    Cc: Mayor Adrian Fenty, Council Chair Vincent Gray, Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus King, D.C. Council Members, Administrative Law Judge Roy Pearson
    * 13 States Declared Independence: DE, PA, NJ, GA, CN, MA, MD, SC, NH, VA, NY, NC, RI
    ++ By Acts Enabling the 13 States: AL, AZ, CO, HI, MT, NE, NV, NM, ND, OK, SD, UT, & WA

  16. Linda Watters

    Have to ask: Eagle Legal……………….u mentioned you have no Wal-Mart’s…………strange……..they seem to be everywhere….so was just wondering …not trying to pry for info..but…….don’t know where they aren’t
    But back to point: this seems to be a way of life(or way of making a life/living) sue…….sue…………and sue…………
    Well……………….I don’t agree…I won’t…………but I bet someone, somehow will eventually sue me for something. That’s why we pay so much insurance……..
    P.S. I too do NOT patronize Wal-Mart.

  17. Ah ha, I don’t think Wal Mart has made it to Australia yet – which is where I live. I could be wrong…it’s a big country, and there’s definitely Starbucks here now.

    As I said to Fairlane, I’ve been to a Wal Mart when I visited the US (from recollection, we needed to buy underwear because our luggage was delayed). What can I say? We were ignorant foreigners.

    Legal action can be a good thing when it forces someone to realise that they’ve done the wrong thing. A friend of mine was sexually assaulted by her boss, and she ended up suing him. I’m glad she did, because the boss would not admit that what he did was wrong, and he continued to insist she was “asking for it” and she “wanted it”. The only way to make him understand that he should never do that again to any young female employee was to hit his hip pocket, because he wasn’t thinking with his brains. Fortunately, although I reckon that guy still thinks he was in the right, I’m guessing he’ll never dare do that again to anyone else.

    However, an overly litigious society is a bad thing – legal action isn’t always the best response to a problem, and it shouldn’t always be the first response. Legal action is by its nature adversarial and aggressive, and puts people at loggerheads. Sometimes problems can be sorted out more efficiently and with less pain for everyone if other avenues are tried first.

    I’m amazed by how much of my salary gets taken up by insurance – life insurance, health insurance, house insurance, car insurance etc etc – I’d regret not having it, but sometimes I wish I didn’t have to pay so much.

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