On May 3, 2005, the Chung family opened up their dry cleaning store in Washington, D.C. for what should have been a normal day of business. Thirteen years later, the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility recommended one of the Chung’s customers from that day be suspended from his profession.
On that fateful day in May, Judge Roy Pearson dropped off a pair of pants to be cleaned. He returned to the store a few days later to pick up his pants, but claimed the pair he was given were not his. Armed with an onerous DC consumer protection statute, and a “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign in the cleaners’ window, he sued the Chungs for $67 million (which he eventually reduced to $54 million).
Stunned, the Chung family was forced to defend itself from a lawsuit that instantly became a major example of out-of-control litigation. The Wall Street Journal called it the “Great American Pants Suit” and said it was “a case for tort reform.” The hit show Law & Order even used it as inspiration for an episode.
The court ruled in favor of the Chungs in 2007, and Pearson’s appeal was also later rejected. Though the decisions gave the Chungs closure, it couldn’t make up for the lost money and time they could have put into growing their small business.
To help ease that burden, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a fundraiser to help the family cover their legal bills. The event raised $64,000. The infamous $64 million pants were featured along with a security guard.
“The Chungs have incurred tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses as a result of this frivolous lawsuit, and they have lost countless nights of sleep to aggravation and worry,” Lisa Rickard, ILR president, said at the time. “Although we can’t give them back their sleepless nights, we have taken a big step toward whittling their legal bills down to size.”
A simple disagreement over dry cleaned suit pants turned into a legal nightmare for a family-owned small business. But though they won in court, the story doesn’t end there.
Earlier this year—more than 13 years after the incident—the DC judge at the center of the lawsuit was finally officially recommended for sanction. The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility recommended he be suspended from practicing law for 90 days.
The recommendation now goes before the D.C. Court of Appeals for a final decision later this year—a long overdue end to what could only be described as the epitome of a frivolous lawsuit.