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Mandel v. White Nile Software, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

December 19, 2019


         Appeal from Bankruptcy No. 12-04127 Related to Bankruptcy No. 10-40219


          Michael J. Truncale United States District Judge.

         I. Procedural Background

         This appeal and related No. 4:17-CV-262 stem from a series of claims that involve a company called White Nile Software, Inc (“White Nile”) formed by Debtor Edward Mandel (“Mandel”) and his friend Steven Thrasher (“Thrasher”). Mandel and Thrasher formed White Nile in 2005 for the purpose of developing search engine technology. White Nile hired Jason Coleman (“Coleman”) to work on several projects. On February 4, 2006, prior to the bankruptcy petition, state court litigation involving Mandel, Thrasher, and Coleman arose. On May 29, 2009, the state court appointed Rosa R. Orenstein (“Orenstein”) as the Receiver for White Nile, and Mandel agreed to pay 52.5% of her fees. In September 2009, the state court issued an order (the “Receiver Counsel Order”) approving Orenstein's designation of Mastrogiovanni, Schorsch & Mersky, P.C. (“MSM”) as independent counsel for Orenstein. Orenstein sent Mandel a bill for $14, 000 for attorney's fees related to the receivership. Mandel refused to pay the bill, and on January 25, 2010, Mandel filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11.

         Over the next two years, the bankruptcy court granted several motions by Thrasher, White Nile, Orenstein and MSM to extend the deadline and approved a stipulation among the parties, including Mandel, to extend deadlines. On February 13, 2012, several of the Plaintiffs sought the appointment of a trustee in the Chapter 11 proceeding. The bankruptcy court conducted a hearing on the matter and on June 18, 2012, the court appointed Milo Segner as the Chapter 11 trustee after granting the a motion filed by the Plaintiffs.

         On August 22, 2012, White Nile Software, Rosa Orenstein, and MSM filed an adversary complaint against Mandel. The bankruptcy court assigned the proceeding number 12-4127.[1]On the same day, Thrasher, on behalf of White Nile and in his individual capacity, Jason Coleman, Maddenswell LLP, and the Law Offices of Mitchell Madden filed their own adversary complaint against Mandel. The bankruptcy court assigned that proceeding the number 12-4128.

         The parties in the Orenstein proceeding objected to Mandel's discharge under 11 U.S.C §§ 727(a)(2), (a)(3) and (a)(4) as well as 11 U.S.C § § 523(a)(2)(A), (a)(4) and (a)(6). The parties in the Thrasher proceeding filed claims for unliquidated damages against Mandel's bankruptcy estate and objected to Mandel's discharge under 11 U.S.C 727(a)(2)(A) and (B), (a)(3) and (a)(4), they also objected to discharge under 11 §§ 523(a)(2)(A), (a)(4) and (a)(6). Mandel objected to the allowance of these claims. The bankruptcy court tried these claims and entered a decision and order awarding $1, 000, 000 to Thrasher, $400, 000 to Coleman, and $300, 000 to White Nile. See In re Mandel, 2011 WL 4599969 (Bankr. E.D. Tex. 2011). Additionally, the bankruptcy court ordered Thrasher and Coleman their reasonable attorney's fees in the total amount of $1, 500, 000. See Id.

         As relevant to the current appeal, the bankruptcy court made the following findings and reached the following conclusions:

Mandel breached his fiduciary duties as an officer of White Nile by failing to preserve White Nile's Assets. In particular, Mandel failed to timely prosecute White Nile's patent rights and transferred money invested in White Nile to NeXplore Corporation, among other breaches.
In order to induce Thrasher to go into business with him, Mandel misrepresented material facts to Thrasher, such as his intent to invest $300, 000 of his own funds into White Nile, to develop its intellectual property.
In order to obtain access to White Nile's intellectual property and trade secrets, Mandel fraudulently represented to White Nile that he had recruited an investor in the Philippines and that there was a team of highly qualified individuals in the Philippines working to develop White Niles intellectual property.
In order to induce Coleman to become a consultant for White Nile, Thrasher made numerous false and inaccurate representations to Coleman.
Mandel breached his obligations to Thrasher and White Nile under non-disclosure agreements he entered into with them.
Mandel conspired with others to misappropriate and use White Nile's intellectual property.
Mandel knowingly communicated White Nile's trade secrets to NeXplore.
Mandel knew his actions were improper, but he did not act with the requisite malice to support an award of exemplary damages.

[Dkt. #1 Attachment 4 Pg6-7]. Mandel appealed to the district court. See Mandel v. Thrasher, WL 3367297 (E.D. Tex. 2013). The discourt court affirmed the findings of the bankruptcy court on appeal. Mandel then appealed to the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's findings of fact. See In re Mandel, 578 Fed.Appx. 376 (5th Cir. 2014). However, The Fifth Circuit remanded the issue of compensatory damages. [Dkt #1 Attachment 4 Pg 7].[2]

         Meanwhile, Orenstein and independent counsel MSM filed independent claims against Mandel's bankruptcy estate seeking their fees related to the state court receivership of White Nile. Mandel objected to these claims. The bankruptcy court conducted a trial related to Orenstein's claims seeking fees. The bankruptcy court allowed Orenstein an unsecured claim of $315, 535 for her reasonable and necessary fees as Receiver incurred through December 1, 2011. The bankruptcy court also allowed an unsecured claim of $155, 517 for reasonable and necessary attorneys' fees incurred through December 1, 2011. The bankruptcy court found the following facts in its decision:

Prior to Mandel's bankruptcy, on May 29, 2009, a state court entered an agreed order appointing Orenstein as the receiver for White Nile.
The agreed order placed Orenstein in control of White Nile's claims against Mandel, among other things.
The agreed order provided that Mandel would pay 52.5% of the receiver's fees.
The agreed order required Mandel to pay the fees of the receiver herself as well as the fees of any counsel she retained.
In an order dated September 15, 2009, the state court approved Orenstein's retention of MSM as independent counsel and required Mandel to pay 52.5% of the fees of the receiver's counsel. The state court also approved the fees of Orenstein and MSM through September 9, 2009, specifically finding their fees to be fair, reasonable, and necessary.
In the state court proceeding, Mandel claimed that he did not have the financial resources to pay his portion of all the fees charged by Orenstein and MSM In the state court proceeding, Orenstein conducted discovery regarding Mandel's financial ability to pay pursuant to orders issued by the state court.
Orenstein testified, credibly, that she had to fight to get business and financial information from Mandel and that Mandel's business structure and finances are unusually complicated.
Orenstein filed two motions to compel Mandel to respond to her discovery requests in the state court proceeding, and the state court ordered Mandel to comply.

[Dkt. #1 Attachment 4 Pg. 8-9]. Mandel appealed the bankruptcy court's order. The district court dismissed the appeal for lack of standing. The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the appeal to the district court, finding that Mandel did have standing. See In re Mandel, 641 Fed.Appx. 400 (5th Cir. 2016). On remand, the district court affirmed the findings of the Bankruptcy Court. See In re Mandel, WL 1197117 (E.D.Tex. 2017). On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Mandel only challenged “the legal findings to support the fee award - not the specific numeric amounts awarded” Id. at 960. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Fifth Circuit found that while the Receiver Counsel Order issued in state court did authorize Orenstein to have counsel, it did not authorize Orenstein to represent White Nile as a creditor in the bankruptcy proceeding, and therefore her retention of independent counsel to assist her in those matters would likewise not be authorized” Id. at 964. The Fifth Circuit remanded only the award amount with regard to Orenstein and MSM.

         Mandel filed a “Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement and to Dismiss All Thrasher and Related Claims and Causes of Action” in the bankruptcy court. The motion, based on a mediated settlement agreement arising out of state court litigation regarding a fee-sharing agreement between Thrasher and Michael Shore, was heard by the bankruptcy court on September 4, 2013. In his motion, Mandel argued that because the mediated settlement agreement includes a release of claims, the bankruptcy court should find Mandel a party to that agreement and broadly construe the agreement to release all the claims of Thrasher and White Nile against Mandel. Thrasher, Coleman, Orenstein, and MSM objected, arguing that ...

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