Of all the tales of litigation-gone-mad, or someone having some fun, the $65 million lawsuit for a pair of trousers – taken by a Judge – is one that also takes the cake in recent times. The Independent reports:
There was a scene of quiet but efficient activity inside Custom Cleaners.
Staff at the rear were busily sorting out piles of garments while at the front of the store, the owner Soo Chung and her husband Jin, were dealing with customers with clothes to be cleaned and pressed. Mrs Chung gave a smile but she did not appear to be very happy. “We have a big problem,” she told The Independent yesterday morning. “A big problem.”
To be precise the Chungs are facing a $65m (£33m) problem in the form of a lawsuit regarding a pair of trousers belonging to a judge that the couple allegedly misplaced. $65m just for a simple pair of grey trousers?, one might gasp incredulously. The Chungs would share such bewilderment. If they were in the mood for levity – and they are not – they might say they were being taken to the cleaners.
“They are good people,” said the couple’s lawyer, Christopher Manning. “The Chungs have suffered both emotionally and physically [as a result of this lawsuit]. They are unable to sleep, they are very stressed. They are even considering moving back to South Korea.” He added: “They came here seeking the American dream but Roy Pearson has made it an American nightmare.”
Roy Pearson is the man behind this unlikely lawsuit, that hints at the lunacy that sometimes grips the litigation process in this most litigious of countries.
Mr Pearson is a regular customer of the Chungs’ dry-cleaning business, located between an off-licence and a Chinese take-away in a strip mall in east Washington, but moreover, Mr Pearson knows a thing or two about the law; he is an administrative judge with the city authorities.
The twisting tale of Mr Pearson’s missing trousers began in the spring of 2005 when he had been appointed to his current position and was about to take up his position on the bench. According to court papers filed by Mr Pearson, he discovered that five Hickey Freeman suits that he took out of his cupboard were “uncomfortably tight”.
He asked the Chungs to do some alterations on the waistbands of the trousers, asking them to let them out by two or three inches. He decided he would take them in for alteration one at a time. Mr Pearson claims that when he took in the grey trousers with red stripes for the $10.50 alteration on 3 May 2005, he was told they would be ready for him to wear when he started work on 6 May. But on 5 May they were not ready to be picked up and when he called back the following morning he was told that the trousers had been misplaced. The loss of the trousers and his inability to wear them for his first proud day in court caused him “mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort”, claims Mr Pearson.
The Chungs, who have had their business for 12 years, agreed to compensate Mr Pearson for his loss, offering first $3,000 and then $4,600. Mr Pearson declined such offers and the Chungs raised their offer to $12,000, many times more than the $800 Mr Pearson says he paid for the trousers. But the judge even refused that amount. Instead he used his knowledge of the city’s statutes to come up with the eye-watering compensation claim that has led observers to claim that the case reveals some of the worst aspects of the US litigation system and highlights the need for urgent reform.
Mr Pearson based his $65,462,500 claim on two signs that the Chungs had hung inside their dry-cleaning store. One of the signs read “Satisfaction Guaranteed” while the other said “Same-Day Service”. Based on these signs Mr Pearson has argued that he is entitled to $1,500 per violation – that is $1,500 for each of the 120 days that the two signs were in the Chungs’ store. (He is also multiplying each violation by three because he is suing Mr and Mrs Chung and their son.)