Jean Anne Courey, an 18-year-old Georgetown University student, was put through the wringer in D.C. Superior Court yesterday when she attempted to bill the city and the university $206 for a special kind of laundry problem.
The sewer had backed up in her wash.
Courey, a junior in Georgetown's school of foreign service, appeared in the small claims division of the court at 9 a.m. yesterday carrying a laundry bag full of evidence - dresses, underwear and bedcoverings permanently stained in the incident last June.
When her case was called - nine hours after she arrived in court - she eagerly took the witness stand to tell Judge James M. F. Ryan Jr. her story.
Courey testified she took three loads of clothing to the laundry room of the university's International Student House at 8 p.m. on June 12.
Although she noticed a city sewer maintenance crew working outside the building, Courey said she proceeded to do her wash in the coin-operated machines. The first wash came out "perfectly," she testified. The clothes in the third washer, she said, were something else.
Courey maintained in her suit that both the D.C. government and Georgetown University were negligent in not informing persons using the laundromat that night that encounter problems.
But her claims didn't wash in court.J. Edward Agee, the assistant corporation ration counsel representing the city, argued that the city has no legal duty to inform residents of sewer repairs in progress and that she had "failed to prove any act of negligence" on the city's part. Philip Ward, representing the university, said the school also has no duty to warn users of possible sewer back-ups.
"This is a court of law and I'm afraid..."You have not made your case...the judge told Courey.
During her testimony, Courey had pulled from her laundry bag, a once-white dress, now tinged brown. She laid the garment on the bench before Ryan, who examined it gingerly.
But stains, alas, were not the issue.
"There was obviously some kind of problem here that should be corrected," Ryan said after his ruling. "Perhaps the city should be willing to make some kind of administrative settlement."
With tears streaming down her face, Courey stuffed her ruined laundry back into the bag and walked slowly out of the courtroom.
In order to bring her claim to trial, she had missed a day of classes.
Because her case was so late in the day, she missed time on her part-time job as a waitress at the Celar Door. Because she insisted on fighting city hall, she had refused a $120 city-offered settlement of her claim before the trial began.
"Everybody told me this was going to happen," she signed. "But it was the principle. I had to take it all the way."