Dressing Down

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

ROY L. PEARSON JR. is certainly the loser in his bid to get his neighborhood dry cleaner to pay him $54 million for a pair of lost trousers. It's hard, though, to find any real winners. Not the unfortunate dry cleaners who endured misery and expense defending themselves. Not a legal system held up to ridicule as the silly case advanced. And not a D.C. government that seemingly has lost its way as it dithers over whether to reappoint Mr. Pearson as an administrative law judge.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff, in an eminently reasonable ruling yesterday, found Mr. Pearson "not entitled to any relief whatsoever." The infamous case started two years ago when Mr. Pearson took his pants to Soo and Jin Chung's Custom Cleaners to be altered. The pants came up missing, and Mr. Pearson sued, citing "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort." He argued that under D.C. law, he was the victim of a fraud because the cleaners displayed a "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign. In effect, Mr. Pearson said that meant a merchant had to do whatever a customer demanded.

Judge Bartnoff rightly dismissed that argument: "A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands or to accede to demands that the merchant has reasonable grounds to dispute." Anyone who has ever been at the receiving end of shoddy service understands the need for consumer protection laws. That Mr. Pearson would bring his claim under that mantle does a disservice to a worthy effort.

We would like to think this is the end of this story, but given Mr. Pearson's penchant for litigation, the Chungs are bracing for an appeal. They have signaled their intent to try to recoup tens of thousands of dollars they incurred in legal fees. Also pending is the question of Mr. Pearson's status as an administrative law judge. Mr. Pearson was poised for a new 10-year term when publicity about the pants suit caused the judicial tenure commission to put a hold on the process. If it is interested in maintaining the credibility of an office charged with deciding civil infractions of D.C. rules, it should act quickly to foreclose any possibility of Mr. Pearson's reappointment. That he showed such poor judgment in pursuing his own case should disqualify him from deciding those of others.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company