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Judge aims to have pants suit ironed out next week

Story Highlights

• Final arguments ended Wednesday in a $54 million lawsuit over pants
• Judge chided plaintiff for rambling, repetitive, inaccurate presentation
• Plaintiff took superior service promise literally, cited consumer law
• Judge plans to issue a written ruling next week
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a dry cleaners has focused on the term "satisfaction guaranteed" and where to draw the line when a customer demands satisfaction over a pair of trousers he says were lost.

The customer, and plaintiff, is District of Columbia administrative law judge Roy Pearson. He's demanding up to $54 million, citing the city's consumer law to bolster his case for taking literally a promise of superior service.

A sign that hung for years at the countertop of Custom Cleaners in the nation's capital said "satisfaction guaranteed," and Pearson maintains that promise is unconditional. The defendant's attorney says Pearson's lawsuit is about revenge, financial desperation and distress over the customer's unrelated divorce. (Watch why Pearson initially wanted $65 million Video)

The shop's owners say that the pants were found long ago, and that the customer has refused to accept the clothing as his.

"Economically, emotionally and healthwise as well, it has been extremely hard for us," Soo Chung, a Korean woman who started the business with her husband, Jin Chung, testified through an interpreter. She described how Pearson, preparing for his lawsuit, "would just come by the store at any time, taking pictures."

Pearson so far has accepted $150 from the dry cleaners and continues to assert the pants found are not his.

Final arguments in the case concluded Wednesday, and the judge plans to issue a written ruling next week. District of Columbia Judge Judith Bartnoff frequently chided Pearson for a presentation that at times was rambling, repetitive, and inaccurate when it came to case law.

"I'm very concerned about it," the judge said. "You're standing here as a lawyer, making an argument, and you have an obligation to the court about what the cases are about."

At times, Bartnoff was amused with Pearson's presentation. On Wednesday, the administrative law judge, in a gray suit and a stained lavender tie, used a 6-inch-thick binder of laws and court decisions that he said supported his case, the Reuters news agency reported.

An enlarged snapshot that Pearson took of the "satisfaction guaranteed" sign became a centerpiece of the trial. The gray, cuffed pants, carefully bagged and on a hanger -- dry-cleaning tag attached -- arrived with the family in the courtroom and hung from the judge's bench throughout the day.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Christopher Manning said "the reasonable interpretation of the sign is by no means what Mr. Pearson says it is."

"Does the sign read: 'If you are not satisfied with our service, you, the customer, can ask for whatever you want, including $67 million, and you will receive it?" he asked, Reuters reported.

"It is not an unconditional guarantee of satisfaction. That would be ludicrous," Manning said. "He is entitled only, at most, the value of the garment."

Although he is representing himself, Pearson seeks millions of dollars in attorney fees and millions more in punitive damages for what he believes is fraudulent advertising under the law. He says he will donate some of any judgment to a consumer education fund.

Pearson reduced his original demand for $67 million to the current $54 million last month, Reuters said. He said the figure reflects fines that have accrued for the four years allowed under a statute of limitations, and it reflects other costs, such as $15,000 to rent a car he used to drive to another dry cleaning shop, Reuters reported.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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