WASHINGTON – A judge ruled Monday that no pair of pants is worth $54 million, rejecting a lawsuit that took a dry cleaner's promise of "Satisfaction Guaranteed" to its most litigious extreme.
Roy L. Pearson originally sought $67 million from the defendants, claiming they lost a pair of trousers from a blue and maroon suit, then tried to give him a pair a pair of charcoal gray pants that he said were not his.
Pearson arrived at the amount by adding up years of alleged law violations and almost $2 million in common law fraud claims. He then lowered the amount he was seeking to $54 million.
But District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff ruled that the owners of Custom Cleaners did not violate the city's consumer protection law by failing to live up to Pearson's expectations of the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign once displayed in the store window.
"A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands" or to agree to demands that the merchant would have reasonable grounds for disputing, the judge wrote.
Bartnoff wrote that Pearson, an administrative law judge, failed to prove that the pants the dry cleaner tried to return were not the pants he took in for alterations.
Bartnoff ordered Pearson to pay the court costs of defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung. The court costs amount to just over $1,000 for photocopying, filing and similar expenses, according to the Chungs' attorney.
A motion to recover the Chungs' tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees will be considered later.
Chris Manning, the Chungs' attorney, praised the ruling, which followed a two-day trial earlier this month.
"Judge Bartnoff has spoken loudly in suggesting that, while consumers should be protected, abusive lawsuits like this will not be tolerated," Manning said in a statement. "Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom."
Pearson did not respond to a call and an e-mail seeking comment. Manning, the Chungs' lawyer, said he expected Pearson to appeal.
During the trial, Pearson testified that he wanted only $2 million in damages for himself -- for his mental anguish and inconvenience -- plus $500,000 in attorney's fees for representing himself. Any additional money that the judge might award would go into a fund "to educate people of their rights under the consumer protection act," he said.
The case garnered international attention and renewed calls for litigation reform.
"This case was giving American justice a black eye around the world, and it was all the more upsetting because it was a judge and lawyer who was bringing the suit," said Paul Rothstein, a Georgetown University law professor.
Rothstein said Monday's ruling "restores one's confidence in the legal system."