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Richard v. Watkins

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 3, 2019

MARIA RICHARD, Plaintiff,
v.
BOYCE WATKINS and LAWRENCE WATKINS, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOAN H. LEFKOW U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants Boyce Watkins and Lawrence Watkins move to dismiss Plaintiff Maria Richard's Second Amended Complaint. The motion [46] is granted in part and denied in part.[1]

         BACKGROUND [2]

         In 2012, Maria Richard began working as a freelance blogger for Your Black World Network LLC, a company owned by Boyce Watkins that created online content tailored to the African-American community. (Dkt. 43 ¶ 6.) In September of that year, Richard also began managing Boyce's career.[3] (Id. ¶ 8.) In 2015, Richard and Boyce decided to form a business venture that would provide clients online training in finance and entrepreneurship. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) They called the venture the “Black Wealth Bootcamp, ” and accepted their first cohort of students in July 2015. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         Richard, Boyce, and Boyce's brother Lawrence formed an Illinois limited liability company called The Black Wealth Bootcamp LLC in February 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 12-15.) Each of them held a one-third equity interest in the LLC, although they agreed that profits would be divided with 72% to Boyce, 18% to Richard, and 10% to Lawrence. (Id. ¶ 13.) The parties drafted an operating agreement for the LLC, but no written agreement was ever signed. (Id. ¶14.)

         Richard had a number of responsibilities with the Bootcamp, including “managing the online platforms, assisting with selling the online offerings, enrolling participants, resolving customer service issues, and creating the PowerPoint presentations” for lectures that Boyce gave. (Id. ¶ 15.) She invested considerable time in the business and fulfilled all of her agreed-upon obligations. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 39.)

         Roughly contemporaneously with the start of the Bootcamp, in 2015 and 2016, the Watkins brothers also launched a number of ventures on their own that competed with the Bootcamp. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19.) These included The Black Business School, The Black Wealth Academy, The Black Wealth Calendar, and others. (Id.) The Bootcamp's classes were added to The Black Business School's platform. (Id.) In 2016, Richard complained to Boyce about confusion he was creating with these similarly-named business ventures. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.)

         The Bootcamp was initially profitable. (Id. ¶ 16.) In 2017, however, the Watkins brothers stripped it of its assets and used the Bootcamp student list to recruit participants to their other ventures. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 21-22.) The Watkins brothers spent Bootcamp money on Facebook advertisements for their other ventures, outspending advertisements for the Bootcamp by almost 7000%. (Id. ¶ 24.) Throughout this time, they maintained complete control over the financial accounting for both the Bootcamp and their other ventures and did not pay Richard her share of the profits for the Bootcamp. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 25.)

         In addition to the problems with the Bootcamp, Richard also raises claims related to a video she posted on YouTube in December 2015. On Boyce's instruction, Richard posted a video on Boyce's YouTube channel criticizing a non-party named Umar Johnson. (Id. ¶¶ 28-30.) Boyce subsequently posted two videos, one in December 2017 and one in December 2018, claiming that “he ‘did not give [Richard] the green light' to make the video about Umar Johnson” and “Maria attacked Umar on my channel.” (Id. ¶¶ 30, 32.) Boyce also posted a comment on YouTube related to his December 2018 video in which he again said Richard “attack[ed]” Umar Johnson and that he “had no idea she was using [Boyce's] YouTube channel to launch a personal vendetta.” (Id. ¶ 34.) Finally, in January 2019, Boyce wrote in a YouTube comment under the alias “Listory 101” that he “did not want to work with her [i.e., Richard] anymore, not only because he was upset about her possibly cheating, but also because he felt she was not doing her job at an adequate level and was not a good business partner.” (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Richard sued, bringing claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, and conversion against both brothers. Richard also bring claims of defamation per se and per quod against Boyce alone. The Watkins brothers move to dismiss Richard's complaint in its entirety for failing to state a claim.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor. Active Disposal, Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011); Dixon v. Page, 291 F.3d 485, 486 (7th Cir. 2002). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also establish that the requested relief is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009); Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). The allegations in the complaint must be “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. At the same time, the plaintiff need not plead legal theories; it is the facts that count. Hatmaker v. Mem'l Med. Ctr., 619 F.3d 741, 743 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Johnson v. City of Shelby, 574 U.S. 10, 135 S.Ct. 346 (2014) (per curiam) (“Federal pleading rules call for a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted”).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Count I: Breach of Contract

         Richard's first claim is for breach of contract. “To state a claim for breach of contract under Illinois law, a plaintiff must allege four elements: ‘(1) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract; (2) substantial performance by the plaintiff; (3) a breach by the defendant; and (4) resultant damages.'” Jokich v. Rush Univ. Med. Ctr., No. 18 C 7885, 2019 WL 1168106, at *5 (N.D. Ill. March 13, 2019) (quoting Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat'l City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 764 (7th Cir. 2010)). The elements are the same whether the contract is written or oral. Mission ...


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