Texas Couple Trashes Wedding Photographer For $125 Fee . . . Texas Jury Orders Them To Pay $1 Million For Defamation

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_signing_the_registerThere is an interesting torts case out of Dallas where a couple was sued by a photographer after they trashed the photographer in the media for withholding their wedding album over $125 that the studio insisted had to be paid.  The story was immediately gobbled up by the media and the studio lost business and eventually closed.  Now, instead of $125, Andrew and Neely Moldovan will have to pay one million dollars in defamation damages.

Neely Moldovan is a “full time beauty blogger’ and shredded photographer Andrew Polito over the disagreement. However, as this Washington Post story discusses, the story was far different from the one carried on local media of a heartless studio abusing a recently wedded couple.

The studio had asked for the couple to fill out a form and select pictures for the album.  Final pictures are not turned over until the album is completed and paid for. The $125 fee is clearly laid out in the contract as is the standard rule that the pictures are not released until payment for the album is made.  Many couples tend to run out on photographers once they have the pictures.

After three months, the couple did a full press blitz and they told NBC affiliate KXAS in January 2015 that the studio was demanding an extra $150 on top of the thousands that they had already paid.  Angry supporters descended on the studio and  the Daily Mail  declared “Wedding photographer holds couple’s pictures hostage.”

The jury saw it far differently.  Indeed, they saw a case of defamation.

The couple may now appeal.

39 thoughts on “Texas Couple Trashes Wedding Photographer For $125 Fee . . . Texas Jury Orders Them To Pay $1 Million For Defamation”

  1. > After three months, the couple did a full press blitz and they told NBC affiliate KXAS in January 2015 that the studio was demanding an extra $150 on top of the thousands that they had already paid

    Did KXAS ask the photographer for their side, or just publish what the bride said?

    Do they have any responsibility to confirm the story or report the other side?

  2. It’s really sad that this online war caused the business to close. That’s their career, their income. What are the owners living on now? How did they even afford to sue? $1 million sounds like a lot, but the entire business and all future income is lost, suddenly, and their ability to create a new business under their names is doubtful.

    Photographers can be expensive. The contract usually spells out what you get. Sometimes there is a sitting fee, and then prints are extra. If the album wasn’t included in the price they already paid, then they owed the money. You would think that when the photographer reminded the couple of the contract, that they would have just carried on and paid for the album.

    I’m friends with an outstanding photographer, and it’s a very difficult business to be in right now. On the one hand, the internet is a fantastic marketplace to sell prints. On the other, the Internet is a fantastic playground for fraud, theft, and forgery. My friend had an image of one of her horses stolen online and altered to look like a unicorn, which the thief then turned around and sold prints for. A friend of hers found some of her stolen images for sale on a cruise. She now uses better watermarks plastered across her images, to be removed when they are paid for. But image theft and of course failure to pay is rampant right now.

  3. Also, let’s see the contract.
    If there is no full payment then there is a possibility that no copyrights, however limited by the contract, if there is one,could be transferred and that might include digital display, distribution on social media platforms, etc.
    The photographers could potentially sue them for infringement.

  4. Neely: “Honey, we just got this final $125 bill from the photographer for the wedding pictures. I was thinking, maybe….what if we ignore this bill and claim he attempts extortion, holding our dearly beloved wedding images for ransom, to generate sympathy, followed by traffic and revenue at my ‘beauty blog?’ Doesn’t that sound like a great idea, hun?”

    Andrew: “Sweetums, your ideas just keep getting betterer and betterer! This is your best idea ever! How can I help make your dream come true?”

  5. $1 million excessive? Not just talking about earning, but also savings. Since her business shut, she had to live off her savings. So how is she going to handle living expenses when she should be retiring?

      1. This is a business-related lawsuit, Legal fees and costs are ordinary deductions against the income, once paid. Texas has no state income tax. Assuming they were to collect the whole enchilada, and assuming a $650,000 recovery net of fees and costs, taxes would take perhaps $225,000, ballpark. So the net in their pocket would be roughly $425,000. A far cry from the gross recovery.

  6. If Congress had passed Tort reform we might never have had Ocare. Doctors/nurses/hospitals would be protected if all costs of a frivolous suit had to be paid by the plaintiff.

    1. Congress is full of trial lawyers. Tort reform is not gonna happen.

      1. So GOP message “If your Senator or House Rep are lawyers, vote for the other guy”.

    2. Tort law is almost entirely a creature of state law. What constitutional provision allows Congress to reform tort law for 50 states? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

  7. Seems from a business perspective not out of line for a million dollars in damages if the photographer can articulate a high amount of revenue. There is also a punitive portion so there is that.

    On another note, many newlyweds unnecessarily burden themselves by having to account for excessively ornate weddings where the money could have been instead spent toward a down payment on a house.

    1. My first husband and I never purchased wedding pictures. We told our parents to buy whatever they wanted. The marriage lasted two years. Apparently we knew it wouldn’t last and didn’t want to waste money. My second husband and I, celebrating our 43rd anniversary on 8/17, while making wedding arrangements for two daughters discovered photographers want all $$$ up front. Of course we paid $$$ for our daughters.

      1. 43 years, congratulations! I hope all goes well for your daughters’ services also.

    2. It’s true. Weddings are ridiculously expensive. I think we should go back to the days of a church or civil ceremony and then a BBQ in the backyard. That’s not facetious. I literally think it would be better to really simplify things and save that money to get started on the more important things – your married life. It’s not the ceremony that’s important, but the marriage.

      That was the only thing that stressed me out about my wedding – keeping the costs down. I was shocked at how much a dress, veil, shoes, DJ, catering, venue, invitations, and the cake cost. Everything has gotten really unreasonable. We managed to keep it within budget, but it was an eye opener, for sure.

      Other than that, I had no worries at all. What wasn’t to love? I got to taste cakes, try on beautiful dresses and shoes, and check out places to get married to a great guy.

      1. Karen.

        I agree. Most of the weddings in the world, the entirety of the population considered, are analogues of what you describe. A service put on by friends and family with a meal prepared afterward. Yet, from at least a legal point of view each are equally valid.

        We managed to also be frugal on ours. It included flying in and providing hotel rooms for two relatives, about 200 for my church, 150 for the wedding arranger, invitations (which I made myself with 20 dollars in materials), catering 750, wedding photographs 800, wedding dress (2nd hand from a consignment store, $500) a three day mini-honeymoon, and the rings.

        Reflecting back most people discover the important aspect is the betrothal and reunion of friends and family, not really the spoils. I bought a modest wedding ring only to have it cut off 14 years later during a trip to the emergency room after my hands swelled due to an allergic response. I later purchased a replacement from e-Bay for $6.99. It serves the same purpose and looks fine enough for me.

  8. I love how the commenters in the Post article put the blame for the couple’s behavior on Trump, forgetting that the timeline totally precedes Trump.

    1. I have great admiration for President Trump’s ability to ignore this nonsense. For someone looking for someone to blame, vote for him in 2020.

  9. mespo is absolutely correct. A deliberate attempt to destroy someone’s business through the publication of statements that falsely accuse the business of dishonesty states a classic case of trade defamation under the common law. I don’t know whether the award is excessive in this instance, but in my experience juries tend to be pretty sensible. I see nothing outrageous in this verdict.

  10. Defamation is usually covered by homeowners insurance but few people carry more than $300,000 or an umbrella to protect them. This was a case that should have been settled and the verdict could be excessive but given the loss of business I doubt it.

    1. The insurer could be defending under a reservation of rights and arguing that the “knowledge of falsity” exclusion applies, an exclusion which I believe is in most policies though I don’t know about in Texas. It would be a stretch, but I suppose the insurer could argue the business activities exclusion if there is evidence that the whole thing started with an attempt by the wife to increase her blog’s visibility and readership.

        1. mespo – from what I read, the bride went on a campaign to smear the photographer’s businesses, which she did not know about until a friend told her to look at her FB page. By that time, there was a wildfire burning and her house was already ruins. Part of the 1m is for what people said about her and her business on FB.

  11. This is absurd. The news media can get away with any sort of mendacity and this couple gets hit with punitive damages in the seven figures? What Michael Kinsley said a generation ago, “Texans are known for a special reverence for ‘bidness’. They better rein in their courts if they want any bidness left.

    1. The couple was handing out the story, and making money from it apparently as the wife’s blog traffic increased. They are properly being held responsible for the claims they made. Although the award is large, some of the testimony indicated that the photographer’s loss of business alone could have been $300,000 a year.

  12. One thing that never ceased to amaze me is how after all the smiles and ‘great jobs’, in spite of everything; some people can rationalize sticking it to ya. These mutts ruined somebody’s business. A million is getting off cheap. The big problem will be collecting.

  13. I’m all for the studio and hope they prevail on appeal if an appeal is made. The irresponsible and oft defamatory posting on social media and whining to the press that results in such dire economic consequences must be punished. This doesn’t sound like a “read the fine print” case and the couple screwed up unwittingly, not that such a situation should matter. A contract is a contract and just because the subject matter photographed was a wedding doesn’t mean the photographer should say “Aw, how sweet” and fork over the photos for free, regardless of what was already paid.

  14. The $1 million is likely excessive and may be reduced on appeal, but it is nevertheless a good reminder that people need to be accurate and fair when leaving reviews of businesses on the internet and social media.

    1. It may not be excessive. The photographer had an established studio in the area. According to some testimony, her bookings for a typical season dropped from 75-100 down to 2, and she had to close a studio she’d had for 10 years. Lost bookings alone could have easily been around $300,000 a year if her charges were on the high end. As both lost income and mental anguish damages are available, it could stand.

    2. Excessive? Says someone who never started and operated over time a successful business.

      1. Says someone who knows everything about people he’s never met. What a jackass.

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