DALLAS – In 2014, a contract dispute between Andrea Polito, a wedding and portrait photographer, and her clients made headlines and went viral.
On July 29, a Dallas County jury awarded Polito a $1.08 million defamation verdict, finding the defendant couple pursued an extensive false and malicious social media campaign against their wedding photographer.
The jury found that the couple, Neely and Andrew Moldovan of Dallas, wrongfully attacked Polito through social media over what they claimed were unreasonable fees associated with the delivery of their wedding photos.
The focus of the dispute was the couple's objection to the contract's stipulation for selecting a $125 photo album cover before the images of the rehearsal dinner and wedding were provided.
In a 2014 TV interview, the couple charged that Ms. Polito was "holding their pictures hostage."
The Moldovans' allegations went viral, damaging Polito's business.
Neely Moldovan, who maintains a lifestyle and beauty blog, said in one Facebook conversation that she was "pretty sure [Polito's] business is done."
The jury in District Judge Dale Tillery's court deliberated for two hours before returning the verdict. Evidence presented in court affirmed that Polito followed the terms of the contract signed by the couple and even sought to further explain the contract and satisfy their demands.
Jurors found the Moldovans liable for defamation, disparagement, and civil conspiracy, and awarded punitive damages.
"Ms. Polito hopes this verdict will reinforce her attempts to repair her reputation, while also sending a message that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences," said plaintiff’s attorney Dave Wishnew of Dallas-based Gruber Elrod Johansen Hail Shank.
"Texas has one of the strongest laws in the nation to protect individuals who air legitimate grievances and opinions. But those protections don't extend to a concerted campaign designed to defame and destroy someone's hard-earned business.
Case No. DC-15-03069