By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Roy L. Pearson Jr. was back in court yesterday, trying to revive his highly publicized $54 million lawsuit against a neighborhood dry cleaners over a pair of lost pants.
Pearson, a former District administrative law judge, recycled some of the legal arguments that were rejected last year by a judge in D.C. Superior Court -- namely, that a sign at the Northeast Washington store saying "Satisfaction Guaranteed" meant he was entitled to the money.
"This is not about a pair of suit pants," Pearson, 58, representing himself, told a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals. The term "satisfaction guaranteed" is "very subjective" and with "no parameters at all," he said, accusing the cleaners of fraud.
The courtroom was packed, mostly with lawyers, law students and court employees, who wanted to watch the case that has drawn national headlines as well as a story line on the NBC show "Law and Order."
Pearson spent about 30 minutes arguing his case against Custom Cleaners, the business he says lost the pants in May 2005.
The appellate judges, Phyllis Thompson, Noel Anketell Kramer and Michael W. Farrell, repeatedly asked him to identify previous District cases to support his argument about the reach of "satisfaction guaranteed." Pearson said he could not provide examples.
At one point, Farrell threw up his hands and asked: "Where is the fraud?"
Christopher Manning, the attorney for Soo and Jin Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners, argued that Pearson was "entitled to nothing." Manning again challenged the notion that the cleaners even lost Pearson's Hickey Freeman brand trousers that he purchased from Nordstrom, saying the store has offered him the pants time and again. Pearson says the trousers are not his.
In her ruling last year, Judge Judith Bartnoff rejected Pearson's view of the "satisfaction guaranteed" promise, saying his claim must be viewed in the context of the expectations of a "reasonable consumer." She also said that Pearson failed to prove that the pants were lost. The judge suggested that Pearson might have been mixed up about what clothing he brought in.
Yesterday, Pearson also argued that a jury, not a judge, should have heard his case. But Pearson's jury request surfaced past the deadline that he had to meet.
The appeals court, the District's highest, must consider all appeals of D.C. Superior Court decisions. The judges are expected to return a decision in two to four months.
Depending on the outcome, either side could ask the entire nine-judge appellate court to review the case. And then, the parties could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
Manning said he was confident that the appeals court would not reinstate the lawsuit, saying he hoped this was the "last episode" in the long-running legal saga. The Chungs, who were in court, have since closed the Bladensburg Road NE store but operate another dry cleaning shop in the city.
Last October, a judicial committee voted against reappointing Pearson to the $100,000-a-year position he had held for two years. In May, Pearson filed a federal lawsuit against the D.C. government, alleging that the judicial committee broke the law when it did not reappoint him.