Chapman University Donor Sues for Return of $12 Million Gift

A 98-year-old donor and his wife are suing Chapman University in Orange, California, over a $12 million pledge they made to the school, alleging breach of contract, fraud, deceit, and elder abuse, the Orange County Register reports.

James and Catherine Emmi have filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court seeking the return of $6 million — double the $3 million they have given of the pledge to date — and the dismissal of the contract for the remaining $9 million. The lawsuit claims that university president James Doti, who is not named as a defendant in the suit, put undue pressure on James Emmi in 2013 to sign an irrevocable contract for the $12 million gift — a pledge equal to about 60 percent of the Emmis' estate — without the consent of his wife.

According to the lawsuit, after giving $50,000 to the school in 2008, Emmi rebuffed a request to donate at least $5 million for a new building that would be named after him because of health and financial considerations. Chapman officials continued to "prey" on Emmi, the lawsuit alleges, knowing he was "susceptible to inducement and confusion," and in September 2013 Doti requested a $12 million pledge, promising Emmi that the technology and engineering building named in his honor would open by 2016. James Emmi signed the document, as did his wife, who signed as a witness. According to James Bohm, the Emmis' attorney, however, Catherine Emmi did not sign anything that formally gave her consent to the gift, as required by law. The couple has no recollection of signing the document and did not consult an attorney at the time.

The lawsuit also alleges that Chapman officials failed to follow through with a promised "full-scale media effort" to publicize the donation, and notes that construction on the building has yet to begin. University spokesperson Mary Platt told the OC Register that construction is slated to begin in 2017 and could be completed as early as 2018.

"Chapman University is deeply saddened by the misstatements in the complaint filed by the Emmis," Platt said in a statement. "Mr. James Emmi has been a close friend of both president James Doti and the university. The allegations do not reflect what occurred and completely mischaracterize the Emmis' interactions with the university."

Sarah Tully. "Philanthropist, 98, Sues Chapman for the Return of His $12 Million Gift." Orange County Register 02/09/2015.