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Posted Thursday, June 14, 2007
Dry Cleaner Calls $54 Million Lawsuit Over Pants a 'Nightmare'

WASHINGTON, June 13 — A pair of charcoal-colored pants at the center of a $54 million lawsuit was unfurled in a courtroom here on Wednesday, introduced into evidence by a defense lawyer who called the lawsuit a “nightmare” for his clients.

“It’s a story of how one man has ruthlessly abused the legal system and one statute and caused a great deal of suffering for what was essentially a hardworking mom-and-pop business,” the lawyer, Christopher Manning, said, referring to Roy L. Pearson Jr., a District of Columbia administrative law judge who is suing the owners of a neighborhood dry-cleaning shop here.

Mr. Pearson is alleging that the shop, Custom Dry Cleaners, returned the wrong pair of pants to him, and along the way broke promises made in signs saying “Same Day Service” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”

Judge Judith Bartnoff is hearing the case and is expected to make a ruling by the end of next week.

In emotional testimony, Soo Chung, one of the business’s owners, said the case had created an ordeal for her and her family, who sat in the front rows of the courtroom.

The pants were introduced before Mrs. Chung took the stand. Fingering the cloth, Mrs. Chung told the court that she remembered — because of the unusual configuration of the belt loops — that these were the pants Mr. Pearson had brought in for a $10.50 alteration.

But Mr. Pearson has said the pants are not his; he sued after Mrs. Chung and her husband, Jin Chung, did not respond to his request for $1,150 to buy a replacement suit.

“Economically, emotionally, and health-wise as well, it’s been extremely hard for us,” Mrs. Chung said, breaking into tears. “He would just come into the store as he pleased, taking pictures as we were running the business.”

In cross-examination, Mr. Manning asked Mr. Pearson whether it was reasonable for someone to sue a merchant for millions of dollars for not receiving the satisfaction guaranteed by a sign.

“Without regard to the law, as a human being, as a person, don’t you think it makes sense to interpret merchant signage in a reasonable way?” Mr. Manning said.

Mr. Pearson, who is representing himself, eventually responded, “No.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, National, of Thursday, June 14, 2007.

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