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Back to the Future: Davis & Lang vs. Boeheim

The Boeheim defamation lawsuit has been resurrected

Editor's note: The following is a quick post about today's Court of Appeals decision while I'm on an extended lunch break during a jury trial. Yeah. That's how much I care about you people!

Today, New York's highest court -- the Court of Appeals -- issued a decision reversing the lower court's finding affirming the trial court's order of dismissal. In layman's terms: back on.

Procedurally, we know this case never went to trial. Boeheim's lawyers filed a notice of appeal very early in the process -- even before discovery. The trial judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the suit filed on behalf of Bobby Davis and Mike Lang did not allege facts sufficient to meet the legal threshold. That dismissal order was appealed to the mid-level appeals court in New York -- the Appellate Division -- which upheld the dismissal in a close 3-2 decision. The Court of Appeals took the case, and after oral arguments last month, considered arguments of both sides and determined, based on the law, that the lawsuit should be reinstated.

The gist of the Court of Appeals' decision is that Davis & Lang sufficiently alleged that the statements of Boeheim in the hours and days after the Bernie Fine allegations were made public, were of such a nature that they constituted "mixed fact and opinion," which makes it at least sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Boeheim making statements that "they had done this before" in regards of Davis & Lang making these sex abuse allegations, as well as Boeheim's reference to the investigation that found no proof of the abuse, are what did Boeheim in. Those facts were special facts that the public -- the reasonable listener/reader of Boeheim's statements -- had no knowledge of prior to Boeheim stating it. Because Boeheim's statements of opinion are based upon those special facts not previously disclosed, the Court found they were mixed fact & opinion, which are the proper basis of a defamation lawsuit.

But wait, this isn't the end of the road. The Court of Appeals is merely stating that the allegations in the lawsuit are sufficient for the case to move forward. That means, the case can proceed through the discovery process, depositions of witnesses, other legal wranglings, and ultimately a jury trial. A jury could still find that those statements were not defamatory. A jury could find that the statements of fact upon which Boeheim made his opinions were actually true -- and most of us know that the truth is a defense to defamation.

So, Boeheim could still walk away from this unscathed. Or, a jury could rule against him and find that he did defame Davis & Lang. Or, maybe this doesn't even get that far -- maybe all the parties reach a settlement, the terms of which we'd probably never know. Stay tuned, we'll walk you through any future developments.

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