A Million-Dollar Settlement on a Cocktail Napkin
DALLAS – August 23, 2018
A Dallas resident was able to sue his former employer for a million dollars, using only the evidence written on an ordinary cocktail napkin.
This story begins in 2015, when Jonathan Kolniak signed a contract with the owner of Bridger Logistics, James Sick during a party. The paperwork for that agreement between Kolniak and ex-boss James Ballengee was scribbled out on a cocktail napkin from the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek.
According to the napkin contract, Kolniak was supposed to help Ballengee build the company in preparation for its eventual sale. The agreement on the napkin gave him 2 percent equity ownership in Addison-based Bridger Logistics, a crude oil logistics company, and a salary of $100000.
Later the propane powerhouse Ferrellgas bought Bridger Logistics for $820 million. After debt was backed out, Kolniak's share should have been $9.35 million, according to the lawsuit.
Robert Bogdanowicz and Robert McNiel, the lawyers for Ballengee, said in a written statement that the cocktail napkin "tells but one small part of the story."
"We believe the evidence at trial would have demonstrated that Mr. Kolniak knew there was no true agreement in the years following that night at the Mansion," the attorneys wrote. "The notion that Mr. Kolniak believed there was a legitimate agreement in place before he hired lawyers was, at best, wishful and convenient thinking."
In a court filing, Ballengee said the napkin agreement was "vague and incomplete" and the result of a "night of drunkenness."
The court filing also said the 11-word agreement didn't specify the company in which Kolniak would get equity. Ballengee claimed the "2% of option" was to a different company, Ballengee Interests, according to a court filing.
Ballengee 's lawyers said that no contract with Kolniak was concluded, and at the party only discussed the details of the potential deal. The former supervisor decided that $400 000 is enough to settle the ordeal.
Lawyers insisted that the businessman did not owe anything to the plaintiff. However, the court did not take into account the arguments of the defense and considered the "napkin document" a legitimate basis for the payment of another $1 million.
Hail said the defendants took advantage of his client, but added that Kolniak is still satisfied with the outcome, despite that the napkin ended up being worth $1 million instead of $9 million.
"The lengthy appellate process could be pretty difficult," Hail said. "You never know what happens on appeal no matter how well it goes at trial."
Ballengee's attorneys agreed that the settlement was a business decision to "avoid further costs and uncertainty."
"Trials like this are extremely taxing — physically, mentally, and financially," the lawyers wrote. "The appellate process can be even more grueling, and it always leaves a huge question mark hanging over everything that has been done."
Hail said he's never seen anything quite like this in his 28 years as a lawyer. Some people do strike non-traditional agreements like this, but usually have lawyers finalize the deals, he said.
"The lesson to be learned is you need to be careful what you put down in writing and sign, no matter what the circumstance," Hail said.