A grieving man whose 22-year-old fiancée died in a car crash says he's now feuding with the owner of a videography company after he requested a $1,800 refund for a wedding that never happened. The videography company says their contract was "non-refundable."
Justin Montney's life was upended when his wife-to-be, Alexis-Athena Wyatt, was killed when her compact car was struck by a semi-truck in Colorado in early February. The couple had been engaged since September 2018 and were just three months away from walking down the aisle on May 23.
"I was shocked, I could barely do anything at all," Montney, 24, tells PEOPLE. "We had to do funeral arrangements, then the funeral, and it was just all so hard. She had just been such a huge part of my life for five years, it was so tough."
In the weeks after her passing, Montney did his best to return to some semblance of normalcy. But first, he needed to do the difficult task of reaching out to vendors to tell them the wedding wasn't happening.
"I felt like I needed to just keep trying to do little things every day to try and continue on," he recalls.
While Montney says most of them returned his money and sent their condolences, things allegedly didn't go as expected when he emailed Copper Stallion Media, the Texas-based videography and photography company the couple hired to capture their special day.
"I regret to inform you my fiance, Alexis passed away in a car accident on the 3rd of February," Montney wrote in an email exchange with a representative of Copper Stallion Media, according to a PDF Montney provided to PEOPLE. "I am hoping to cancel any arrangement we made with a refund."
The company replied and said they would remove the event from their schedule, but would not issue a refund under the terms of their contract, according to the PDF.
Montney says he initially believed there was a misunderstanding, so he claims to have sent a news story about Alexis' accident along with her death certificate in the hopes the company would refund the $1,800 deposit to him or Alexis' family.
When reached by PEOPLE, Copper Stallion Media sent a link to one of two webpages they registered under Montney's name, JustinMontney.com and JustinMontneyWedding.com. In it, the company explained that they scheduled two videographers for the event, which they blocked off on their schedule.
"Life is a bitch, Justin," a statement on the website reads.
"If something should ever happen and the wedding is canceled, like in this scenario, we keep that money as liquidated damages as there is a likelihood that we will never re-book that date with someone else," the statement continues.
Montney says further follow-up emails went unanswered and he informed Copper Stallion Media last week that a friend of his planned to share what happened on Facebook. The post gained traction on social media and led to the company receiving negative reviews on the popular wedding-planning website, The Knot, which featured a page for the business that shows up in search engine results but is no longer available to view. When Alexis' mother explained the situation in a post to the website, Montney says Copper Stallion Media threatened to sue her and others.
"They threatened to sue her and they've been threatening to sue everyone that posted any negative review of them on The Knot," recalls Montney, who then decided to take his story to local news station KRDO, which aired a story on Thursday.
According to screenshots shared on social media, after the story was published, Copper Stallion Media used Facebook to post an insensitive message that mocked Montney on the date that was supposed to be his wedding day.
"Today would have been the day where we would have filmed Justin and Alexis' wedding in Colorado Springs," the company wrote in a since-deleted message, according to the screenshots. "After what Justin pulled with the media stunt to try and shake us down for a refund, we hope you sob and cry all day for what would have been your wedding day."
"Sorry, not sorry," they added, according to the screenshots. The company's original social media pages have recently been deleted.
Montney says the webpages set up by Copper Stallion Media feature a picture of him from college that was edited to widen his eyes and show him frowning. The webpage also features alleged voicemails to the company left by people attacking them for not issuing a refund and screen grabs of multiple one-star reviews that were left on The Knot.
"The contract was non-refundable. We will NEVER refund Justin Montney even with the online threats and harassment," the company's website reads. "If we knew he was going to shake us down, we would have charged a higher deposit."
"We understand a death occurred, but it's not right for people to turn to the internet and sodomize the reputation of a company," Copper Stallion Media continued. "This is malice and the intent was to do harm. We know Justin is still young and in his 20s but this was wrong. He could have quietly filed a small claim to 'try' to recoup the non-refundable deposit. Instead, he chose the internet to shake us down."
Montney says he doesn't plan to take any legal action against the company. He also doesn't expect to get his $1,800 back.
"They sure did personally attack and they sure did hurt me," Montney tells PEOPLE. "But I'm not a vengeful person. The way I look at it, I'm just like, I don't know why they're doing this. I just don't."
Wedding photography was the focus of one recent lawsuit that saw a photographer earn $1.08 million in a defamation suit when her clients refused to pay a $125 fee and launched a social media attack that harmed her business. A Dallas County jury agreed that the photographer followed the terms of the initial contract.
Attorney Caroline Fox — who runs Engaged Legal, an online educational resource on legal issues for wedding and event professionals — says the situation with Copper Stallion Media is a "classic case" of legal rights versus business decisions.
"In a situation where we are looking at an event, the purpose of which is celebrating the marriage of two people, terminated because of the death of one of the two people — that feels very much like a situation where the frustration of purpose doctrine could apply," says Fox, who also works full-time at CJFox Law, PLLC, in Richmond, Virginia.
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"Frustration of purpose is a very narrow and extremely case-by-case analysis which says that a contract can be terminated if two parties enter into a contract for a specific purpose which is known to both of them and some sort of unexpected, unforeseeable thing happens that destroys or makes impossible the underlying purpose of the contract," Fox continues. "Is [the] death of a partner potentially unforeseeable? If so, the groom may have been able to claim frustration of purpose. The state law will control on this."
But from a non-legal perspective, Fox believes keeping the deposit was a "bad business decision."
"Even if the company is in the right here, refunding would have gone a long way — let alone not taunting a grieving man who recently lost his future wife," she says.
Today, Montney is still healing from the trauma of losing Alexis, whom he met at a religious camp when they were both students at Fort Hays State University in 2015.
"She really, really worked hard at her schoolwork and she also wanted to always put her best foot forward," he says, adding that Alexis wanted to be an English teacher. "She was just super kind and gentle and always cared about the other person. She always fought for what was right and cared about how she could help somebody else."
"I couldn't stop thinking about her after the camp," Montney continues. "I asked her out and then we went on our first date, and it was history from there."