Thursday, June 4, 2020
The seemingly endless saga involving former Judge Roy Pearson has ended in a discipline decision by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
The Board on Professional Responsibility (the “Board”) concluded that the respondent, Roy L. Pearson, Jr., violated two of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 3.1 and Rule 8.4(d). Though the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee (the “Hearing Committee”) recommended a thirty-day suspension, stayed during a two-year period of probation, the Board disagreed and recommended a ninety-day suspension without a stay. We agree with the Board’s conclusion that Pearson violated both rules and adopt the Board’s recommendation as to sanction.
The bar investigation into the conduct began in 2007 and the underlying litigation ended in 2009.
Pearson sued three defendants (Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung, and Ki Y. Chung) who jointly owned and operated Custom Cleaners, a dry cleaning business. Id. at 1069. The dispute originated with Pearson’s allegation that the Chungs lost a pair of pants that he had brought to Custom Cleaners for alterations. Pearson initially demanded $1,150 in compensation. He then filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court claiming that defendants had violated the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. Code §§ 28-3901 to -3913 (2013 Repl. & 2019 Supp.) (“CPPA”), and committed common law fraud, negligence, and/or conversion. Pearson’s claims rested on his interpretation of three signs in the Chungs’ store: “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” “Same Day Service,” and “All Work Done on Premises.” In the initial complaint, he sought at least $15,000 in compensation for emotional distress and $15,000 in punitive damages from each defendant.
Pearson’s demands for compensation escalated dramatically as the case went on. His claims for emotional damages increased to $3,000,000 by trial. He asserted that he was entitled to $90,000 to obtain a rental car so he could travel to a different dry cleaner in the city. He claimed that he had expended 1,200 hours of work on the matter, worth $500,000 in attorney’s fees. He sought prospective relief requiring the Chungs to pay him $10,000 within twenty-four business hours if he notified them that they were not providing him with acceptable service. His damages theories often included multiplying his claims by three (for each defendant), by two (for his separate statutory and common law claims), by three for treble damages under the CPPA), by three (for each sign), by seven (for each CPPA subsection allegedly violated), and/or by every single day that a particular sign had been on display within the statute of limitations (under his theory that each day represented a separate violation of the statute and was independently compensable). By the time the Joint Pre-Trial Statement was filed, Pearson claimed that he was owed more than $67,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
The court noted misconduct in his motion and discovery practices
Pearson’s liability and damages claims compounded the mischief of his motions and discovery practice. Pearson protests that his liability claims cannot fairly be deemed frivolous, as he survived summary judgment and a motion to dismiss and was allowed to proceed to trial. The trial court also opted not to sanction him. But, while relevant, those decisions are not dispositive of whether the legal theories ultimately were frivolous. Pearson’s claims continually expanded throughout litigation and his liability and damages theories became more clear — and more outlandish — as the case progressed. As noted above, the trial court granted judgment as a matter of law rejecting Pearson’s claims based on the “Same Day Service” sign. In light of the entire record, surviving summary judgment cannot be taken as a dispositive ruling that Pearson’s theories had legal support. Instead, as noted by the trial court and quoted by the Board, once Pearson’s legal theories “clearly were articulated,” they “were unsupported in fact or in law.”
It is also true that, as a technical matter, some of Pearson’s theories presented a matter of first impression. But the lack of a definitive holding precluding a legal theory does not mean that it cannot be frivolous...
We agree with the Board that this is one such case. The total damages figure is shocking in itself; simply put, Pearson asked the trial court to award him $67,292,000 because of his dissatisfaction with defendants’ dry cleaning services. But the constituent parts of that $67,292,000 total are equally troubling. Pearson asked for $90,000 to rent a car, a facially disproportionate request in response to the alleged need to patronize another dry cleaner. He claimed that his emotional distress over a few common and innocuous signs and a lost pair of pants was so severe that he was entitled to $3,000,000 in damages. Perhaps most remarkable was his request for a judgment obligating the Chungs to provide him with ongoing services and to pay him $10,000 immediately based on nothing more than his own request, a demand that the Hearing Committee called “patently non-cognizable,” was made after the defendants had already taken down the signs at the heart of the controversy, was tethered to no statutory basis, and was completely out of proportion to any likely shortcoming in dry cleaning service. These damages theories were utterly frivolous, implausible to the point of having “not even a faint hope of success,” and they violated Rule 3.1.
And seriously interfered with the administration of justice
The Board found that Pearson’s Rule 3.1 violations unduly burdened the judicial system. But even setting aside those violations, the Board also found that the court system was burdened by his “repetitive” motions and discovery practice, some of which was explicitly barred by a previous court order, other parts of which involved “unfounded allegations against the pre-trial judge.” We agree with the Board’s finding that Pearson’s “litigation tactics went beyond aggressiveness and crossed the boundary into abusiveness.” These tactics, and this litigation, consumed far more resources than the issues merited for at least three parties: the defendants, the Superior Court, and this court.
The court found his approach to the bar matter similarly problematic in part for allegations concerning Disciplinary Counsel
Pearson has repeated these accusations in his brief to this court, describing Disciplinary Counsel’s efforts as a “crude and inept” “make-up-the-violations-as we-go-along effort to fashion something with which to literally hang the Respondent.” He also refers to the Board and Hearing Committee as “proxies for racists everywhere” and calls this court’s decision in Pearson v. Chung “moronic.”
There is substantial evidence in the record to support the Board’s factual conclusions. Even if respondent’s “actions were heartfelt . . . that does not mean . . . that they were innocuous.” Yelverton, 105 A.3d at 427. For the reasons stated above, we conclude that respondent violated District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct 3.1 and 8.4(d) and impose the sanction of a ninety-day suspension without a stay.
The per curiam opinion was issued by a court division consisting of Associate Judges Fisher and Easterly and Senior Judge Steadman. (Mike Frisch)