Judge Sues Cleaner for $65M Over Pants
Thursday, May 3, 2007; 6:55 AM
WASHINGTON -- The Chungs, immigrants from South Korea, realized their American dream when they opened their dry-cleaning business seven years ago in the nation's capital. For the past two years, however, they've been dealing with the nightmare of litigation: a $65 million lawsuit over a pair of missing pants.
Jin Nam Chung, Ki Chung and their son, Soo Chung, are so disheartened that they're considering moving back to Seoul, said their attorney, Chris Manning, who spoke on their behalf.
"They're out a lot of money, but more importantly, incredibly disenchanted with the system," Manning said. "This has destroyed their lives."
The lawsuit was filed by a District of Columbia administrative hearings judge, Roy Pearson, who has been representing himself in the case.
Pearson did not return phone calls and e-mails Wednesday from The Associated Press requesting comment.
According to court documents, the problem began in May 2005 when Pearson became a judge and brought several suits for alteration to Custom Cleaners in Northeast Washington, a place he patronized regularly despite previous disagreements with the Chungs. A pair of pants from one suit was not ready when he requested it two days later, and was deemed to be missing.
Pearson asked the cleaners for the full price of the suit: more than $1,000.
But a week later, the Chungs said the pants had been found and refused to pay. That's when Pearson decided to sue.
Manning said the cleaners made three settlement offers to Pearson. First they offered $3,000, then $4,600, then $12,000. But Pearson wasn't satisfied and expanded his calculations beyond one pair of pants.
Because Pearson no longer wanted to use his neighborhood dry cleaner, part of his lawsuit calls for $15,000 _ the price to rent a car every weekend for 10 years to go to another business.
"He's somehow purporting that he has a constitutional right to a dry cleaner within four blocks of his apartment," Manning said.
But the bulk of the $65 million comes from Pearson's strict interpretation of D.C.'s consumer protection law, which fines violators $1,500 per violation, per day. According to court papers, Pearson added up 12 violations over 1,200 days, and then multiplied that by three defendants.