Judge who wanted $67M for missing pants mostly loses quest to punish landlord
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Legal Newsline) – The infamous former District of Columbia judge who tried to sue his dry cleaners for more than $50 million over a lost pair of pants has lost his effort to punish his landlord for having raised his rent.
Though former administrative law judge Roy Pearson did get his rent reduced as a result of his court fight, an ALJ, the D.C. Rental Housing Commission and the D.C. Court of Appeals have ruled against further arguments he made.
Pearson wanted more than three years’ worth of extra rent paid, triple damages and to submit additional evidence of damages. The Court of Appeals refused March 3.
Pearson was ridiculed more than a decade ago when he sued Custom Cleaners over its “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign that he claimed violated consumer protection laws. He calculated statutory damages and other wrongs in the tens of millions of dollars.
Ultimately, he won nothing but forced the owners of the business, Soo and Jin Chung, to crowd-source to pay their legal bills fighting the case. Pearson was suspended from practicing law for 90 days in 2020 for pursuing the case.
During the trial, Pearson, representing himself, cried twice during his testimony.
“What if this had been…” Pearson said before choking up.
The judge in charge of his pants lawsuit found that Pearson’s discovery tactics and his flood of motions unnecessarily delayed resolution, which was a jury verdict in favor of the dry cleaner.
It was also noted that Pearson showed no remorse for pursuing the case. He argued it wasn’t frivolous, given that the judge allowed it to proceed all the way to trial and never sanctioned him for his discovery and motions activity, but the Court of Appeals ruled then that Pearson’s legal theories became more outlandish as the case progressed.
He alleged the Chungs violated three of the signs in their window: “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” “Same Day Service” and “All Work Done on Premises.” He originally sought five figures because he said they lost his pants and tried to give him an imposter pair.
But by trial he increased his claim for emotional damages to $3 million. He claimed he needed $90,000 to rent a car to drive to a different dry cleaner. He wanted a half-million in attorneys fees.
Before trial he claimed he was owed more than $67 million.
He took legal action against Gardenia Brown, his landlord beginning in 1999, for raising his rent from $585 per month to $949. Brown claimed an exemption from a rent-control statute but did not provide Pearson with a copy of the exemption form.
So he argued it was unlawful for her to raise his rent, which she did multiple times until 2014, when he started fighting. An ALJ, the RHC and the Court of Appeals agreed but only provided compensation for rent paid in the previous three years, per a statute of limitations.
His claims to further punish Brown were rejected after a finding that Brown had not acted in bad faith – even though Pearson argued her actions were “heedless” and subject to triple damages.
“It is not clear that Mr. Pearson is correct on that point,” the Court of Appeals wrote. “In any event, the RHC reasonably explained that ‘heedless(ness)’ in the present context should be viewed as equivalent to ‘malicious thought’ or ‘recklessness.’
“We think it clear that neither the ALJ nor the RHC viewed Ms. Brown’s conduct as heedless in that sense.”
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