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Judge tosses $54 million suit over missing pants

Story Highlights

• Judge rules for dry cleaner in $54 million lawsuit over pants
• Plaintiff claimed cleaner lost a favorite pair of his suit trousers
• Judge says cleaners did not violate Consumer Protection Act
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A judge in the District of Columbia has dismissed a case against a dry cleaner who was sued for $54 million in damages over a pair of missing pants.

Roy L. Pearson, an administrative law judge, originally sought $67 million from the Chung family, owners of Custom Cleaners. He claimed they lost a favorite pair of his suit trousers and later tried to give him a pair that were not his.

Custom Cleaners did not violate the city's Consumer Protection Act by failing to live up to Pearson's expectations of the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign displayed in the store window, Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff ruled.

Pearson claimed that a sign was an unconditional warranty that required the defendants to honor any claim by any customer without limitation.

He calculated the amount of damages by estimating years of violations, then adding almost $2 million in common-law claims for fraud.

At a news conference in front of Custom Cleaners, Soo Chung said through an interpreter that she was "very pleased" with the verdict, adding that she and her husband have no plans to move back to Korea.

When asked if she would accept Pearson as a future customer, Soo Chung said through her translator, "If he wants to continue to use our services, then yes, they would accept him as a customer."

During the trial, the Chungs denied Pearson's allegations and insisted that the pants were the same pair he brought in to be altered in May 2005.

Pearson represented himself during a two-day trial earlier this month and claimed millions of dollars in attorney fees and millions more in punitive damages for what he claimed was fraudulent advertising.

Pearson said that when he took the pants to Custom Cleaners, his financial situation was ruinous. He had just been ordered to pay $12,000 in attorney's fees to his ex-wife and his credit cards were at their limit.

The Chungs' attorney argued that no reasonable person would interpret the sign to mean an unconditional promise of satisfaction, and Bartnoff agreed.

In a 23-page finding of fact, Bartnoff wrote: "A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands or accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute."

Pearson had "not met his burden of proving that the pants the defendants attempted to return to him were not the pants he brought in for alteration," the judge concluded.

Bartnoff awarded court costs to the Chungs, who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on the case. They are attempting to have their attorney's fees paid by Pearson.

"Judge Bartnoff has spoken loudly in suggesting that, while consumers should be protected, abusive lawsuits like this will not be tolerated," said the Chungs' attorney, Chris Manning. "Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom."

Soo Chung said during the trial that "economically, emotionally and healthwise as well, it has been extremely hard for us." She started the business with her husband after they moved to the United States in 1992.

It's not known whether Pearson will appeal the ruling.

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