The day started out promising for Chauncey Hardy, a former Sacred Heart University basketball star who was playing professionally in Romania.
It was Oct. 9, 2011, and he was just named captain of his team. That night they played rival Bucharest. Hardy scored 22 points, his favorite number and led his team to a big victory.
Several hours later he was dead; beaten to death in a local pub.
For the past year, Hardy’s family has been looking for answers. They have been looking for justice for their son.
According to their lawyer, Richard Altschuler, of West Haven, both have been hard to come by. So they decided to take a rare approach. The family filed a lawsuit in federal court in Connecticut against the Romanian Basketball Federation, a Romanian hospital, two doctors, his basketball coach and team and the alleged gang member who sucker-punched Hardy in a bar.
“I think it’s the only option,” said Altschuler. “We did contact Romanian lawyers and were deterred on various grounds. They just didn’t think it’d be worth it. The sense is that we couldn’t get justice in Romania.”
Allegations in the 18-count lawsuit include assault, breach of contract, negligence, medical malpractice, misrepresentation, and violations of Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA).
Hardy’s mother, Olamae, the rest of his family and Altschuler are seeking $210 million in damages.
Despite filing the lawsuit to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Hardy’s death last week, Altschuler expects it to be a few months before the defendants are even served with the complaint.
Altschuler explained that in order to serve the Romanian defendants they must follow the guidelines in the Hague Service Convention. Under the convention, the participating countries use a standardized form. By the time a designated person in that country arranges for the service of process, it takes two to four months.
“We were basically led to believe it was going to be meaningless and useless to bring a case in Romania at this particular time. I promised the mother if [the lawsuit] couldn’t be brought in Romania I’d bring a case here in the United States,” said Altschuler. “Whatever happens, at least we won’t be wondering about a question of inherent fairness. In a U.S. court, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Hardy, 23, was a former Xavier High School star in Middletown and one of only a few all-time thousand point scorers in Sacred Heart history.
After college, Hardy was recruited to play for the CSS Giurgiu basketball team in the Romanian Basketball Federation. Altschuler pointed out that Hardy was recruited in Middletown in person and through phone calls, emails and text messages. He signed his contract in Middletown Aug. 27, 2011. Altschuler said that point is critical to claiming jurisdiction in Connecticut in order to file the federal lawsuit.
Hardy quickly asserted himself as a team leader, becoming captain of the team the same day he led the team to a big win over a cross-town rival. That night, the team decided to go out and celebrate their big win.
At the pub, Hardy was dancing with a girl. Her boyfriend noticed and was none too happy. The boyfriend, Ionut Adrian Tanasoaia, an alleged Romanian gang leader, punched Hardy in the face. There are conflicting reports that other patrons, connected to the gang, or “clan” as they are called in Romania, began kicking the unconscious Hardy while he was on the ground.
Altschuler said Hardy was punched so hard he suffered a fractured skull, two fractured discs in his neck and his face was a bloody mess.
Hardy was taken to the low-budget Giurgiu Hospital. The hospital treated Hardy as if he was an extremely inebriated patient needing to “sleep it off,” explained Altschuler.
In reality, Hardy was in a coma. After four-and-a-half hours, Altshuler said, the hospital realized there might be something wrong with Hardy. He was transferred to the superior Bucharest Hospital where doctors tried saving his life but he suffered two heart attacks while on the operating table.
After the death, Romania’s Health Minister Raed Arafat criticized the country’s healthcare system and the lack of care provided to Hardy. He levied a fine against the Giurgiu Hospital for $11,200 and two doctors there for nearly $1,000 a piece. Arafat was later forced from office by the Romanian government because of the criticism, Altschuler explained.
Meanwhile, Hardy’s assaulter, Tanasoaia, was arrested on charges of assault leading to death and public outrage. Tanasoaia was found not guilty of the serious assault charge and instead convicted of the lesser public outrage charge. He was sentenced to five years in jail.
“Instead of 30 years to 50 years, [Tanasoaia] got five years for public outrage to the Romanian people,” said Altschuler. “What about Chauncey’s loss of life? It’s another indicia that justice won’t be coming forward in Romania any time soon.”
In U.S. District Court in Connecticut, Hardy’s estate is suing the Giurgiu Hospital and the two doctors for medical malpractice. They are suing Tanasoaia for assault and the Romanian Basketball Federation and Hardy’s team for failing to keep Hardy safe and failing to warn him about the dangers of Romanian gangs and the “anti-American, anti-African American” sentiment held by some Romanians.
The lawsuit also accuses the team of breaching its contract by failing to continue paying Hardy’s $1,000 a month contract after he died. The latter claims are filed under CUTPA because Hardy’s contract was signed in Connecticut.
Altschuler is no stranger to filing international lawsuits in federal court. A decade ago was his most notable when he sued Pfizer for secretly testing a new drug during a 1996 meningitis outbreak in Nigeria. He represented the families of 33 children who died from the drug Trovan. A movie, “The Constant Gardner,” was based on the allegations.
Altschuler said he reached a confidential settlement with Pfizer in the case in February 2011.
Altschuler said he would use his own international cases as support for filing Hardy’s case in Connecticut. Though unlike the Constant Gardner case, Altschuler has not traveled to Romania and has been told it’s probably not safe for him to do so.
Middlebury attorney Anthony Minchella, a CUTPA expert who is not involved in this case, said the plaintiffs have “a decent shot” of keeping their CUTPA claim alive against overseas defendants in a Connecticut federal court because of the alleged misrepresentations in the recruitment process here.
“If there is evidence like that, and the plaintiff couches this more like a business transaction and not an employment relationship, which CUTPA usually does not cover, his claim may survive a pre-answer motion to dismiss,” said Minchella.
Minchella said the fine print of the contract itself though may provide further answers.
“The contract could contain a specific choice of law provision making Romanian law the governing law, which can control the CUTPA analysis,” said Minchella.
Minchella explained that the language in CUTPA requiring trade or commerce “in this state” was originally proposed as “directly or indirectly affecting the people of this state.”
“Courts have interpreted the language ‘in this state’ as requiring trade or commerce ‘intimately associated with Connecticut’,” said Minchella. “Romanian basketball is not intimately associated with Connecticut, but if the recruitment process is the ‘trade or commerce’ then that’s something different.”
Minchella said the CUTPA claims and malpractice claims are mutually exclusive so if the CUTPA claims are dismissed a malpractice claim may still make it to trial.•