Point, Counterpoint: Iwuji Motorsports Strikes Back At EPM
NASCAR team answers, files motion to strike countersuit six days after mediation session.
The $4.1 million lawsuit brought by Jesse Iwuji Motorsports LLC (JIM) against Equity Prime Mortgage LLC (EPM) was scheduled for mediation last week, but that didn’t stop the NASCAR team from asking a federal judge to rule in their favor.
Monday in U.S. District Court for Southern Florida, JIM filed its “answer and affirmative defenses” and a motion to strike a countersuit filed by EPM in February. EPM had filed the countersuit after JIM filed its lawsuit in December alleging that EPM stopped making the monthly payments required to maintain a $6 million, two-year sponsorship agreement.
In its countersuit, EPM officials claimed JIM knowingly concealed violating the agreement and subsequently acknowledged it to the defendants in a meeting in May, several months before JIM filed its initial lawsuit.
According to EPM's countersuit, JIM officials withheld information that went to the heart of the agreement. EPM CEO Eddy Perez — who is Cuban, an underrepresented ethnic group in the mortgage business — has said that he seeks to empower others to achieve their own version of the American Dream, with a focus on minorities and veterans. The team’s decision to switch from Iwuji, who is Black and a veteran, to a white driver with no military background was a move away from the goal of EPM’s sponsorship, the company claimed.
EPM officials said JIM never disclosed they were changing from Iwuji, and that Perez confronted the team about that in a meeting in May.
EPM officials said JIM team member Matthew Casto acknowledged the breach of contract in that meeting and told Perez that Iwuji was being sabotaged by his own team and being subjected to racism because he was not a good enough driver, and that the team brought in a more experienced driver to score more points during races.
EPM officials claim Perez gave JIM several months to “make it right” and continued to make monthly sponsorship payments of about $187,000 before stopping payments in October.
In its response filed Monday, JIM officials state that there was no breach of the agreement.
“JIM specifically denies that there was any understanding (implicit or explicit between the parties) that Jesse Iwuji was to be the only race car driver for JIM,” the answer states.
While JIm acknowledged that Casto flew to Atlanta on May 11, 2022, and met with Perez, it “specifically denies that JIM has breached the sponsorship agreement or that JIM has acknowledged the occurrence of any such break by JIM.”
In its affirmative defense, JIM unequivocally states that that neither the sponsorship agreement nor the Statement of Work (SOW) stated that Iwuji would be the only one to drive the EPM-sponsored car.
“As the sponsorship agreement contains no express terms in support of EPM’s claim that Jesse Iwuji was to be the sole and agreed upon driver of the EPM sponsored race car, it follows that no breach of the sponsorship agreement has occurred,” the document states.
JIM also states that “the parties reached an accord and satisfaction” after Casto’s visit, “evidenced by EPM’s continued payment of the monthly sponsorship fee” in June, July, August, and September, and “continued to enjoy the benefits” of the agreement.
The affirmative defense adds that JIM “was justified in having another driver serve as driver for the EPM-sponsored race car” because the agreement does not state that Iwuji would be the only driver, or that EPM would “have approval rights over who is/was to be the driver,” or that using another driver “would have any negative commercial impact on the rights granted by JIM under the agreement.”
JIM adds that, “at all times relevant,” it acted in good faith in ensuring that EPM received the benefits agreed upon in the sponsorship agreement, and that it “acted in complete performance with the terms and conditions” set by the agreement.
The motion to strike, filed concurrently with the answer and affirmative defense, asks the court to enter an order to strike EPM’s countersuit with prejudice, and to grant “such other relief as the court deems just and appropriate.”
JIM’s filing came just six days after the two sides were scheduled to meet with a court-appointed mediator. The session was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on April 25 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. No information about that meeting was available.