The absurd and abusive litigation by Roy Pearson, the former D.C. administrative judge, against his drycleaners continued with oral arguments Wednesday before a three-judge panel of the District’s Court of Appeals. Pearson still claims the Chung family owes him $54 million for failing to live up to their shop’s “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign when they misplaced his suit pants.
The Washington Post’s columnist Marc Fisher has the story, as always, in “The Pants Watch Never Stops“:
All three judges were repeatedly frustrated by Pearson’s inability to offer a direct answer when asked if he is arguing that any merchant who offers satisfaction must therefore bow to any customer’s demand for damages, no matter how absurd.
Judge Thompson repeatedly tried to get Pearson to name some case, some legal authority, backing up his view of the meaning of “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” but Pearson did not satisfy her.
“Why isn’t this simply a contract dispute,” Farrell asked, in which “you sue them in small claims court and you have an objective determination of your loss? Where is the fraud?”
Just so. Pearson’s original beef could be legit for all we know (although his subsequent behavior suggests not), but his obsessive litigation against the Chungs, costing them tens of thousands of dollars and the closure of two of their shops, is outrageous. Crazy and bad things are always going to happen, but D.C. law should not encourage more craziness.
The American Tort Reform Association this week again made a positive suggestion for fixing the law. In a release, ATRA’s president, Sherman Joyce, argued for reforming the district’s consumer protection statute, which allowed Pearson seek $1,500 for each day that the dry cleaner displayed signs stating ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ and ‘Same Day Service’ — even if they had no connection to the fate of the pants. Joyce’s suggestion:
By requiring that a plaintiff prove that he or she actually relied on a supposedly fraudulent or deceptive advertisement or representation, lawmakers could drastically reduce this kind of lawsuit abuse. After all, Roy Pearson’s claim against Custom Cleaners alleged that the display of basic window signs somehow constituted a willful fraud punishable by a mind-boggling, potentially bankrupting civil damages award.
Policymakers also would do well to limit plaintiffs’ claims for damages to out-of-pocket costs, except in cases when it can be proved that a defendant’s actions were knowingly and willfully fraudulent or deceptive. In Pearson’s case against the cleaners, for example, his out-of-pocket costs, at most, would have included the price of a replacement suit, alterations and any reasonable legal expenses.
Not $54 million worth of damages, in other words.
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