Marc Fisher wrote in the Washington Post on Thursday about a titanic legal dispute that is unfolding in our nation’s capitol, where an attorney (who I will refer to here only as "Attorney" for various reasons) has been battling with a local cleaners ("Cleaners") for years now over some pants ("Pants").
It seems that in 2002, Attorney asked Cleaners to clean Pants. Cleaners lost Pants, later admitting its error and compensating Attorney with a check for $150. (Apparently these were high-quality Attorney Pants.) But the dispute seems to have been acrimonious, because Cleaners told Attorney he was no longer welcome there, although this was resolved in some fashion that caused Attorney to continue to use Cleaners.
But the Pants Dispute was almost certainly still in Attorney’s mind when the next Pants issue arose in 2005. Attorney had a new job that required him to wear suits every day, so that he needed five times as many Attorney Pants ready to wear. Attorney also found that his existing Attorney Pants had somehow become "uncomfortably tight." Attorney returned to Cleaners with Pants on May 3, 2007 (it is unclear whether these were the same Pants, so I will refer to these as "Second Pants"), and asked Cleaners to let the waist of Second Pants out two or three inches so that he could wear them on May 6. But Second Pants were not ready that morning. Indeed, said pants were nowhere to be found. Anger followed.
One week later, Cleaners found a pair of pants that it believed to be Second Pants. But Attorney said Second Pants had pinstripes, whereas these ("Third Pants") were gray. Anger increasing, Attorney pointed to representations that Cleaners made in signs posted on the premises, including "Satisfaction Guaranteed," and "Same Day Service." Eventually, he sued, claiming the broken sign promises constituted fraud.
This has been going on for two years now, and Attorney’s settlement demands have continued to escalate, along with Cleaners’ attorney fees. Originally, he demanded $1,150 for a new suit. This was apparently rejected, but as legal bills continued to mount, Cleaners offered $3,000, then $4,600, and eventually $12,000, enough for ten new suits even at Attorney prices. But this is no longer enough for Attorney.
Attorney now seeks damages including litigation costs, the value of the time he has had to spend on the litigation, the value of "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," and the costs of leasing a car each weekend for the last ten years (the report did not explain that one). Also, because Attorney is suing under the District’s handy Consumer Protection Act, he also claims damages under that law’s provision that imposes damages of $1,500 per violation (Attorney claims 12 "violations"), per defendant (three members of the family who run Cleaners), per day (1,200 — probably the limitations period of the CPA). Total damages claimed? $65,462,500.
Oh, also some new pants.
And that’s just for Attorney’s own claim. Although the case is somehow going to trial in June, a D.C. judge did at least reject Attorney’s attempt to turn the case into an action on behalf of the general public (all D.C. residents). This is a common feature of consumer-protection statutes, and while it may be beneficial in some cases it also is susceptible to abuse, which is why you get someone claiming with a straight face to be representing all members of the public in a case that is based on a pair of pants. In rejecting that claim, the judge said that "the breathtaking magnitude of the expansion" Attorney sought had caused the court "significant concerns that the plaintiff is acting in bad faith." "Significant concerns" — really? Let’s not rush to judgment, your Honor.
Meanwhile, it is entirely possible that the whole dispute, which you will recall began over the alleged loss of Second Pants, is completely unnecessary. Cleaners’ attorney told the Post that he has a perfectly good pair of gray wool pants hanging in his closet, bearing a tag that he says matches Attorney’s receipt. "We believe the pants are his," he said. Whether the mysterious pants are in fact Attorney’s pants will apparently be fought out in the arena of D.C. Superior Court sometime this summer.