Bride, groom who slammed Dallas wedding photographer online, in media must pay $1.08M FILED UNDERCOURTS JUST 2 DAYS AGO. A Dallas wedding photographer was awarded $1.08 million Friday in a defamation suit against a local blogger and her husband who launched a social media campaign that destroyed her business.
A Dallas County jury concluded that Neely Moldovan and her husband, Andrew, embarked on an extensive effort to slam Andrea Polito and her business, Andrea Polito Photography, according to a lawsuit filed in March 2015. "I was proud of my accomplishments, what I have done. They took that away from me," Polito said. "It's been a fight for myself to get my reputation back."
Neely Moldovan, who at the time maintained a blog called "A Complete Waste of Makeup," and her husband hired Polito's company to photograph their October 2014 wedding and the events leading up to it. Weeks after the ceremony, Neely Moldovan began emailing to ask when the high-resolution photos would be available.
Polito's company reminded the couple that, as stated in the contract they signed, the photos would be released once the album was completed. The couple was required to submit an order form and select a cover photo before the album could be completed, but had not done so, according to the suit. After several weeks of back and forth and the couple's objection to paying $125 for the cover, Polito said she planned to absorb the cost to satisfy her customers.
Two days after she emailed the couple, Polito learned they had contacted several local television stations and told KXAS-TV (NBC5) that Polito was "holding their photos hostage," according to the suit. Polito said that almost overnight, the couple's allegations ruined the business she had spent 13 years building. "People knew me and my reputation. I've shot several of the Dallas elites," she said. "All the name-calling, all the bullying ... I was humiliated."
The Moldovans also made "disparaging and defamatory" statements on social media and blogs, including Wedding Wire, about Polito and her company, saying she "cheated" and "scammed" people, the suit states. Andrea Polito's photography business received several one-star reviews online after an NBC5 interview with the Moldovan couple aired in January 2015.
In a Facebook conversation, Neely Moldovan, who now blogs at "It Starts With Coffee," said she was "pretty sure [Polito's] business is done," the suit states. The couple also "liked" a number of defamatory statements published by other people, such as one on Yelp that accused Polito of giving the reviewer AIDS, the suit stated. Several one-star reviews posted within days of the news story have since been removed for violating Yelp's terms of service.
The Moldovans said people were posing as them online using fake profiles, but that was ultimately proved false, said Polito's attorney, Dave Wishnew of Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank LLP. The NBC5 story and interview with the couple aired in January 2015, at the start of Polito's primary booking season. In a typical year, the business would book between 75 and 100 weddings, she said. That year, it booked only two. "My business was destroyed," Polito said.
In October, she moved out of the North Market Street studio she'd kept for 10 years. Andrea Polito, A jury determined Friday that the Moldovans were liable for $1.08 million in damages for the defamatory, disparaging and malicious statements, according to court documents. The Moldovans can appeal the ruling. "No one is saying you can't go and write a review," Wishnew said. "Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. Things you put on the internet to attack a business have real-world consequences and that really resonated with the jury. You can't go and burn someone's house down and claim free speech."
Polito is determined to rebuild her company. "I’m emotionally exhausted. This has been a very long battle," she said. "Last Friday when the verdict was read I felt a little bit relieved, but most importantly, I feel my reputation was restored to myself. What’s been so hard the past couple of years has been feeling so ashamed of this story." She hopes that others who may be in a similar situation take away that they have to "fight for what's right and fight for your passion." "No one is safe from this," she said. "I wasn’t a new business, I was an established business with a reputation that was well-respected in the Dallas community."