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Photo studio ordered to pay $8,000

| Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007

District Judge Carolyn Bengel on Wednesday issued a default judgment against Stoebener Studio of Photography and its owners after they failed to appear for a civil hearing.

Two couples sued the studio for breach of contract after not receiving their wedding photos.

Jim and Melanie Armbrust of East Deer and Kurt and Teri Landsberg of Springdale filed complaints on Oct. 16 against the Tarentum studio, owners Robert and Bernadette Stoebener, and Shawn Stoebener, who shot their weddings.

Wednesday's hearing was set for 3 p.m. By 3:40 p.m., the Stoebeners hadn't shown and Bengel issued the default judgment. She said she offers parties involved in hearings in her courtroom to be 15 minutes late and that the Stoebeners well exceeded that grace period.

"I was hoping they'd show up," Bengel said, adding that she would've liked to resolve the matter so the couples could get their photos.

The judge awarded the Armbrusts about $3,950 and the Landsbergs about $4,500.

The Stoebeners have 30 days to appeal the ruling with Allegheny County Court. If they don't file an appeal, the ruling becomes final.

Contacted at home after the hearing, Robert Stoebener said, "That was on the advice of our lawyer." He deferred additional comment to his attorney, Ed Voelker, who could not be reached by phone Wednesday afternoon.

Shawn Stoebener also could not be reached by phone.

Meantime, Melanie Armbrust and Teri Landsberg said after the hearing that they were disappointed the Stoebeners didn't attend.

"We pretty much knew they weren't going to show," Armbrust said.

She added, "We'd rather have our pictures than anything. But, we'd rather have the money than nothing."

The Armbrusts received a small portion of their order from the studio. The Landsbergs said they received nothing.

"We have one picture of us dancing," Teri Landsberg said. "That's all we have."

She said the photo was taken by someone else at the wedding other than Shawn Stoebener.

Nathan J. Zarichnak, the attorney representing the Armbrusts and Landsbergs, said he hopes to be able to negotiate with the Stoebeners so the couples could get copies of the proofs from their weddings.

"We'll open the door to negotiating other possibilities for the judgment being satisfied," he said. "We're hoping (the Stoebeners) come forward with the proofs and display a positive image."

The problem with the now-closed studio stems from a rift between Robert Stoebener and his son, Shawn.

Robert Stoebener said he intended to sell the business to his son, but his son allegedly reneged on the deal.

Stoebener said he has had nothing to do with the business since the beginning of the year and that his son, at that time, assumed control of its day-to-day operation.

The business remains in Robert Stoebener's name.

Since the original story about the studio appeared in the Valley News Dispatch, numerous other couples contacted the newspaper to say they never received their photos.

Several others contacted the paper to say they didn't receive photos or prints from the studio that weren't taken at weddings.

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