A jury in Dallas has said a couple must pay their wedding photographer $1.08 million in damages for launching a public campaign intended to defame and discredit her after the two parties disputed over a $125 fee.
Wedding photographer Andrea Polito said Friday’s decision was the end of a long journey.
Andrew and Neely Moldovan had hired the photographer and her studio to take their engagement photos and capture their October 2014 wedding and rehearsal dinner. Polito said she had been a busy wedding photographer in the Dallas area for over a decade, and her studio was usually booked every weekend.
After the nuptials, Polito’s contract stipulates that once she sends proofs, the couple must put in an order for their album, which carries an additional fee of at least $125 for the cover.
According to the lawsuit Polito filed in March 2015, Neely Moldovan, a lifestyle and beauty blogger in Dallas who has previously blogged for HuffPost, requested copies of high-resolution photographs from the event after she received proofs. Despite contractual protocol, the couple did not submit their order for the album.
Polito told The Washington Post that she, like many other wedding photographers, does not release high-res images until after the entire package is complete and paid for because “photographers will hand over the images and the bride disappears.”
After several emails back and forth reiterating the contract, Polito said she waived the fee in an attempt to move on with the process. Then she learned the couple had told local news stations Polito was “holding their photos hostage,” according to the suit. The couple appeared on Dallas’ local NBC News station, lamenting their experience working with Polito.
They also complained on social media, posting comments on Facebook and Instagram and writing a review trashing the photographer as “scamming” them on WeddingWire, a site couples use to find wedding vendors. The suit also said multiple one-star reviews appeared on the review site Yelp in the days after the Moldovans appeared on TV.
Polito wrote candidly about the experience on her blog, and she ultimately filed a defamation lawsuit that alleged that the couple’s campaign defamed her and destroyed her business. The photographer said in her lawsuit and to multiple news outlets that the viral news story eventually caused her to close her studio. She told CBS News she hasn’t photographed a wedding in two years.
A Dallas county jury agreed with the photographer, and found the couple guilty of defaming Polito and acting out of malice to disparage her and her business.
A spokesperson representing the Moldovans told HuffPost that the couple is “stunned” by the verdict.
“We did what consumer advocates say to do: When you are wronged, you fight back,” read a statement sent on behalf of the Moldovans. ”If this is the cost of standing up for what’s right, we should have given in to start with. But we hope to prevail in the end.”
The couple can appeal the verdict but have not indicated if they intend to do so, according to the The Associated Press.
Polito’s lawyer Dave Wishnew said Polito hopes the verdict will send a message “that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Polito said she felt vindicated.
“I feel my reputation was restored to myself,” she told the newspaper. “What’s been so hard the past couple of years has been feeling so ashamed of this story.”