Wedding bell bliss quickly turned to wedding bell blues for dozens of newlyweds when their photography studio shut down with no warning — before handing over the party pics or videos. “I don’t have one picture of my husband and I looking at the camera,” said recently married Kirsten Sauthoff. “Not even one decent picture that we can hang on the wall.”
Imagine waking up to the good fortune of no rain on your wedding day, taking priceless pictures of your walk down the aisle and first kiss as a married couple, only to find out that these memories, captured so professionally on film, might soon be just that — a memory.
Newlyweds in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are furious because Celebration Studios, a regional photography service, had no problem taking innocent couples’ money before abruptly disappearing, leaving the twosomes who recently tied the knot with no visual record of their special day. “I just want the proofs to have a nice album and memory.” That doesn’t sound like too much to ask for out of your photographer and videographer that you’ve trusted with this once in a lifetime day. And to think, Kirsten and so many other clients of Celebration trusted the studio so much that they actually paid for the whole deal upfront.
Lis, I read an article the other day about some pro wrestler who’s now accused of keeping a group of women as his “sex slaves.” I can’t help but wonder how this stuff even happens. — Colleen (Dallas, Texas)
Celebration Studios shut down last month and is currently in the process of filing for bankruptcy. This comes as a surprise to some because for much of its 15 years in business, Celebration Studios had a reputable name in the wedding photography field. But things clearly went awry in recent months when several customers complained about the company’s failure to deliver products and fulfill contracts. In confirmation, the Better Business Bureau stated that Celebration Studios has an unsatisfactory record.
“It’s the biggest day of your life. I feel helpless. I trusted this company financially and emotionally,” said Heather Rossi, another blushing bride.
According to the Celebration Web site, “unforeseen financial difficulties have made it impossible to continue [the company’s] business operations and deliver videos in a timely manner.” To the company’s knowledge, no photos or videos have been lost or destroyed. But right now, these are not comforting words to anyone, and the newlyweds aren’t going down without a fight.
Instead of looking through their albums right now, many of the couples are trading their smiles for files and joining class action lawsuits against the studio in hopes of receiving their pics and videos. The New Jersey attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit against the company and its owner Marc S. Schwartz, citing fraudulent practices. It also issued an order to prevent them from selling or disposing of the wedding images that had not been delivered.
“Our focus remains on getting consumers the contracted and paid-for items that have not been delivered to them. These newlyweds want their wedding keepsakes and today's action ensures that all existing items in the possession of the defendants and their subcontractors will be preserved,” Attorney General Anne Milgram said.
In New York, Burney Law Firm has also filed a lawsuit against Celebration Studios. The firm received calls from several hundred alleged victims and is trying to get the suit certified as a class action. The attorney has also applied for an emergency restraining order to force the company to preserve all photos, videos, and business records. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Attorney General continues to encourage affected consumers to file complaints with his office.
In addition to the lawsuits, over 400 picture-less pairs have joined a Yahoo! chat group, "Wronged by Celebrations." The online message board has posts from dozens of brides, grooms and former employees griping about Celebration Studios and supplies them with updated info. In one final statement, Kirsten said, “At this point, I have very little hope.”
To prevent your cheers from turning into tears, it’s important for all you soon-to-be newlyweds to do your homework before hiring any photographer. Call your county consumer affairs agency and the Better Business Bureau and do an online search of the company's name. After all, it’s the biggest day of your life and you should have your cake and eat it too.
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.