Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Judge Crazy Pants

A couple of months ago, Tsachie first brought to my attention the case of Roy Pearson, the DC Administrative Law Judge who was suing his former dry cleaners for +$54 million dollars for a pair of pants (part of a suit) which he claims that they lost. His case was based on DC consumer protection law and relied heavily on the fact that the dry cleaners had a sign proclaiming that "SATISFACTION" was "GUARANTEED". Needless to say he was not satisfied.

The dry cleaners, on the other hand, have since produced a pair of pants whose tag matches the number on Pearson's ticket and which they say they legitamitely believe to be his long lost pants. Yet, Pearson, after only a cursory glance at the garment, denied that these could be one of the many pairs of pants that he dropped off at the cleaners.

How did he arrive at such an outrageous sum: well there's the replacement cost of the suit ($1,150) plus the price of the car that Pearson was forced to rent in order to reach another dry cleaner due to the bad blood with the only dry cleaners within walking distance of his home, not to mention statutory damages under DC's consumer protection law which provides for $1,500 per violation per day. At one point the cleaners offerd Pearson an $1,150 check for a new suit but that was no longer enough to please him.

Well this ridiculous lawsuit has ceased to be just an "odd news" anecdote. Last week there was a trial, and the judge (and trier of fact in the case) is expected to hand down her decision later this week. I feel like the local news and many people here in DC have been following this case with a great deal of amusement. Washington post columnist Marc Fisher has been covering the trial in his online blog (the most amusing of several posts about the case is that on Day Two). Fisher notes how Pearson broke down in tears during his first day on the stand, how he called on the presiding Judge to revisit the judgment on his divorce which was decided in Virginia state court (and which she rightly refused to touch).

On the second day of his testimony, the courtroom at one point broke into derisive laughter at Pearson's argument. My favorite part of his testimony was when the defense attorney (in reference to the infamous "Satisfation Guaranteed" sign) asked whether signed ought not to be interpretted reasonably. Pearson was all "well that depends..." and when the attorney asked him to commit to a simple yes or no he answered "no". Signs should not be interpretted reasonably.

Judge Judith Barnoff who had the pleasure of overseeing this trial has already made her opinion on the merits rather clear as (a) in response to defense counsel's motion to dismiss the claim at the close of plaintiff's case she refused but said it was a "close call", and (b) at the end of the trial she said that the statute was very important to protect consumers but also that it was very important that statutes like this were not misused. Nevertheless she is taking her time in drafting her written judgment no doubt so it will stand up on Pearson's inevitable appeal.

In case I haven't made my opinion of this case perfectly clear by now, I too think that Pearson is cuckoo bananas. Clearly a sign stating that satsifaction is guaranteed is not meant to be strictly construed (I think you can even argue that it is "meer puffery" and more-or-less meaningless). What if Pearson would be satisfied with nothing less than an opportunity to bang the merchant's daughter? Would the dry cleaner be obliged to consent to that then?

Pearson's tenure as an ALJ is up for renewal and many people believe that he should lose his bench as this outlandish litigation shows that he lacks the requisite judicial temperament. I tend to agree.

14 comments:

Amanda Fliger said...

I 100% agree. I told them I paid when I dropped them off!!!

Cuckoo bananas, loves it!

Meeg said...

Girrrl...

Bracha said...

This matter is simply a consumer protection issue. For far too long dry cleaning customers have been literally "taken to the cleaners" by their dry cleaner. Clothes get lost, damaged, and destroyed without neither an apology nor restitution. This is despite the fact that practically every dry cleaner throughout the US (certainly in metropolitan areas) has signs stating "Statisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service." Such signage is misleading. I have yet to find a dry cleaner that stands by their signage. My experience with dry cleaners, much like the ALJ's, is one of frustration. Satisfaction is simply not guaranteed. Dry cleaners have failed to remove stains, have failed to press and clean clothes properly, and have destroyed and lost a number of articles of clothing. Not once, despite numerous complaints (at a number of different dry cleaners) have any of these issues been rectified. Furthermore, with regard to the same day service pledge, NOT ONE dry cleaner I have come in contact with has honored such pledge, despite my request. This is a situation akin to classic "bait and switch" scenario. The dry cleaner has lured me into his wretched establishment (as opposed to the one across the street) based upon his explicit promise of same day service. But, once I arrive there with my dry cleaning, it is the same line "Oh no, Sorry Miss, we cannot have that ready today. How about next Friday." Therefore, I understand the ALJ's anger and frustration. I too have had clothes that lost, even clothes that are simply irreplaceable. I too have wanted my dry cleaning returned on the same day, as per their pledge. I personally think that the ALJ's mistake in this matter is procedural. He should have brought a class action against the national dry cleaners association, as these problems appear to be industry-wide. I certainly would have joined the class.

Meeg said...

You're right about the same day service not usually being available. I've had experiences where I've had to get something cleaned quickly and the dry cleaner was like "When do you need it by?" and when I was like "tomorrow" or whatever they give you a look which makes you feel like a irresposible child for not bringing your clothes in earlier and then they're like "Ok, tomorrow around noon".

I'm sure its a rough business to run what with having to keep track of everybody's clothes, being expected to find stains that weren't pointed out to you, and having to deal with customers who are dissatisfied when stains don't come out.

Bracha said...

But that is their job--to get the stains out and keep track of the clothes. Now we cannot expect people to perform their jobs in a professional fashion? Doctors get sued if they amputate the wrong limb. Dry cleaners should get sued if they ruin or lose your clothes. It is that simple

Meeg said...

I just think we're lucky anyone performs this service seeing as how much it clearly sucks. Obviously you should be compensated if they lose your clothes, but if you soiled your clothes and the stain won't come out that's really just tough luck -- I mean you're the one who ruined the clothes not them.

Bracha said...

Then they should not have signs stating "Statisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service." Furthermore, if you go in there with a heavily stained garment, you generally point out the stain to the cleaner. At that point, the dry cleaner should clearly inform you that the stain may not come out.
Additionally, we are lucky to have many things in this day and age. We are lucky that we have clean water. The point is that there are many jobs/professions whose services we utlize that we are lucky to have. However, those services must be performed in a professional fashion. Dry cleaners, in both my experience, and in the the ALJ's experience, simply do not perform as such.

Z-Dog said...

Don't you hare pants?

Z-Dog said...

Of course, I meant don't you hate pants... don't you hate typos too?

Meeg said...

Yes, the tyranny of pants. That's the real enemy here. Surely we should stop fighting each other and work to overthrow the pantsocracy.

Nicole said...

people, people. clearly the answer here is to throw away all of your clothes that need to be dry cleaned. it's obviously a conspiracy between the clothing manufacturers and the dry cleaning industry so...fight the power!! tell your bosses you're wearing jeans to work from now on and that they can kiss your ass if they have something to say about that! put the damn dry cleaners out of business.
and for god's sake, stop spilling crap on your pants! what the hell is wrong with y'all?

Meeg said...

You know I'm physically incapable of eating/drinking without spilling on myself. And couldn't you imagine he-who-shall-not-be-bamed being the plaintiff in a crazy lawsuit like this?

Nicole said...

well, he was the king of the people who spill crap on themselves. oh my god, being around him when he was eating was such a nightmare. stuff would just fall out of his mouth. >shudder< oh, and he was the king of the totally insane lawsuit as well. was he claiming in his toxic mold lawsuit that part of the damages were for a maid to clean up his mess of a house because the mold made him kind of loose it and become a total pig? how many different things did he have going on to explain why he was loosing his mind? there was the mold, the wreck... the dry cleaning would've just pushed him over the edge.

Nicole said...

why do i keep writing loose when i mean lose? what the hell is wrong with me now? hmmm, who can i sue over this?