originally published February 13, 2014
As some of you may be aware, I am almost sort of a lawyer, kind of. I grant myself this professional designation because I studied for and subsequently wrote the LSAT exam about five years ago. And while I scored high enough to warrant getting black-out drunk and celebrating for a week or so (at least they tell me it was a week), I soon realized that I didn’t want to go to law school, nor did I wish to acquire the student loans necessary to do so, as it would require switching to cat food to feed my family.
But the legal system still interests me, albeit with an intensity only marginally brighter than the day’s baseball scores and significantly dimmer than Fox’s upcoming reboot of the show 24. Fortunately, I have created for myself a comfy little online seat in which I can peruse a new topic every day. Today I’m hungry for a taste of the genuine goofiness of the American legal arena.
I’ll warn you – unless you’re familiar with the occasionally ludicrous excesses of the justice system this is going to resemble some bad piece of law-school-freshman fiction. But every word of this is true. This is the world in which we live – one where a citizen can feel free to stand up, throw back his head and declare with an assertive harrumph that he feels he is ethically, morally and legally entitled to the sum of $67 million for a lost pair of pants.
Meet Roy Pearson, the plaintiff. It looks like Mr. Pearson has recently picked up his dry cleaning. Chances are he did not do so from Custom Cleaners in Washington D.C., as this was the company that effectively destroyed his life when they allegedly lost his pants. If this sounds somewhat egregious to you (or perhaps skull-thwackingly insane) then you are clearly not a litigation lawyer. This company had a sign that claimed ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’, yet they lost his pants! Allegedly! How dare they?! (Allegedly?!)
Roy brought his pants in to Custom Cleaners on May 3, 2005. He claims they were of a unique design, with three distinctive belt loops on either side in the front. I don’t know why someone would need three belt loops on either side. Perhaps Roy was keeping his pants up by using bungee cord as a belt. That’s not important.
There was a mix-up which sent the pants to another store, which resulted in their return to Roy’s possession significantly later than the May 5 pickup date. There was just one problem: he claims they had the wrong pants.
Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners, insisted that yes, these were the pants. The tags, the receipt, and the store records all showed that these were Roy’s duds. Roy felt certain they weren’t and demanded over $1000, the price of the pants. The Chungs said no, and Roy loaded a litigious bullet in the barrel and fired at the sky.
Which is a clumsy metaphoric way of saying he sued them. I probably shouldn’t have tried to get so damn fancy with that.
Roy’s lawsuit was for the sum of $67 million. He claimed the pants to be one issue, but another was the signage that read ‘Same Day Service’ and ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ in the store window. The three South Korean immigrants, who had moved to Washington and opened a business in pursuit of the American Dream, instead found themselves with the ugly reality that some people will fart all over your dream with a frivolous lawsuit if the mood and opportunity were to strike. This farty mess was going to court.
The Chungs put forth a trio of settlement offers throughout the suit, offers of $3000, $4600 and $12,000. Twelve grand for a misplaced pair of trousers – not a bad haul. But this was not the compromise Roy was after; he graciously reduced his demands to $54 million, citing $500k for lawyer fees, $2 million for “discomfort, inconvenience and mental distress” (this is the part where most sensible people will want to see Roy sentenced to a lifetime of attending tedious timeshare meetings as punishment), and the rest to help similarly pissed-off D.C. customers harangue local businesses. Roy is a community man.
On the first day of the trial, Roy broke down in tears while he was explaining the frustration he faced at losing his pants. Then a witness, an 89-year-old in a wheelchair, told the judge how the owners were “like Nazis”, having chased her out of the store on a previous occasion. This is all from the Washington Post – my imagination could not have concocted this one.
Good news – the trial lasted about two weeks and the judge found in favor of the defendants. Not-so-good-news – Roy wasn’t finished. Right away he made a motion for appeal, which was denied. The Chungs filed a request to have their $83,000 in attorney’s fees recompensed, but dropped it right away. The internet had stepped in by that point, and a massive online fundraising campaign for their case had been started as the ridiculous story made headlines as the perfect crystallization of frivolity in a lawsuit.
So the Chungs were safe, and Roy was not victorious. To make matters worse, in November of 2007, about five months after the trial, a commission voted against Roy receiving a ten-year extension on his term as an Administrative Law Judge, meaning he lost his job and the $100,512 salary it provided.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention… Roy was a friggin’ judge.
Naturally, Roy sued. He wanted a million dollars in compensation for punitive damages and his lost wages (for the job he had just lost), and his job back. This meandered through the court system for a couple of years before getting tossed. Roy is no longer presiding, which is a good thing, given his obviously pretzelesque view of justice.
Roy wasn’t done with the Chungs either. An appellate court heard the pants case in September of 2008, for which the Chungs’ lawyer offered to reprise his role pro bono. The case was again rejected in December. Roy submitted it to the D.C. Court of Appeals for the full nine-judge appellate to weigh in, but they rejected the case. Oddly, Roy never tried to get the Supreme Court to intervene.
The Chungs ended up shutting down their shop. They had been operating two, and decided to focus their energies on the one that didn’t attract this looney lawsuit. Roy, foiled by the very legal system he had sworn to serve, has had to accept total defeat on this case.
He should have taken the $12,000 offer. That would have been pretty substantial for a pair of (allegedly) missing pants. But then I’m no lawyer.