A Washington, D.C., dry cleaning store that was sued for $54 million over an allegedly missing pair of pants will not have to pay anything to its disgruntled customer, a judge ruled Monday.
Instead, Roy Pearson, who sued over the missing trousers, may have to pay the store owners' legal fees.
Washington Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff said Pearson had not proven that the Custom Cleaners dry cleaning shop had actually lost his prized pants.
She also said that Pearson's theory that the owners owed him $54 million because they lost his pants despite a sign that ensures "Satisfaction Guaranteed" had no support in the law.
"A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands," Bartnoff wrote in her ruling.
The case gained national attention after the lawsuit was filed. Pearson, an administrative law judge, drew fire not only from an outraged public, but from trial lawyers and tort reform advocates across the country. The response to a story written about the case on ABCNEWS.com was so overwhelmingly in favor of the defendants that a defense fund for the dry cleaners was set up to accept online donations.
Defending themselves against the suit -- for two years running -- were Korean immigrants Jin and Soo Chung and their son, who own Custom Cleaners and two other dry cleaning stores in the Fort Lincoln section of Washington. The Chungs said they spent thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The judge ruled Pearson must pay the defendants' court costs, which amount to about $1,000. Bartnoff said she would consider at a later date whether to make Pearson also pay the Chungs' attorneys fees, which make up the larger portion of their legal fees.
"Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom," Christopher Manning, the Chungs' attorney, said in a statement. "Simply put, Judge Bartnoff got it right."
An Emotional Trial
The trial proved nearly as dramatic -- and unusual -- as the plaintiff's claims. On the witness stand, Pearson broke down in tears and had to take a break from his testimony because he became too emotional while questioning himself about his experience with the missing trousers.
In his opening statement, Pearson came out swinging, telling the court, "Never before in recorded history have a group of defendants engaged in such misleading and unfair business practices."
Repeatedly referring to himself as "we," Pearson sought to present himself as the leader of a class of tens of thousands, if not a half million people, consisting of local residents he believes are at risk of falling for such insidious business practices as posting "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service" signs. Pearson said at one point in court filings that he planned to call 63 witnesses.
"Mr. Pearson, you are not 'we.' You are an 'I,'" Bartnoff told him.
As Pearson explained the details of the missing pants, he struggled to get through his hour and a half of testimony, most of which concerned his credentials and his background.
He became visibly emotional when he reached the point in the story in which he recounted a confrontation with Soo Chung from the dry cleaning store.
"These are not my pants," he testified, and said he told her, "I have in my adult life, with one exception, never worn pants with cuffs."
Pearson testified that Chung insisted, saying, "These are your pants."