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Davis v. Boeheim

Citation. 24 N.Y.3d 262, 22 N.E.3d 999, 998 N.Y.S.2d 131 (N.Y. 2015)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Davis alleged that he was sexually molested by Fine, assistant basketball coach at Syracuse and Boeheim’s old friend. Boeheim released multiple statements via the Syracuse press and independent news sources supporting Fine and calling Davis a financially motivated liar.

Davis sued Boeheim and Syracuse University for defamation, claiming that Boeheim’s statements had caused him economic, emotional, and reputational harm.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A three-factor test is used by a court to determine whether a statement connotes fact or non-actionable opinion in a defamation suit:

  1. Whether the specific language in issue has a precise meaning which is readily understood
  2. Whether the statements are capable of being proven true or false; and
  3. Whether either the full context of the communication or the broader social context and surrounding circumstances are likely to signal to readers that the statement is an opinion and not a fact.


Davis alleged that he was sexually molested by Bernie Fine, who was Boeheim’s long-time friend and assistant head coach of the Syracuse University basketball team. Davis claimed that Fine used his position of authority to exercise control over Davis and sexually molest him since he was 11 years old. Davis reported Fine to the police, a local newspaper, and the University, but no one investigated the matter. His claims only gained public traction when the coach of another well known university was accused of sexual abuse.

Syracuse University released a statement that it was unable to corroborate Davis’ claims after a four-month investigation back when Davis had initially reported the abuse. At the same time, Boeheim issued a public statement via the Syracuse University news service, as well as statements to other news sources, that backed Fine and cast Davis as a liar who was financially motivated to pursue his allegations.

Davis sued Boeheim and Syracuse University for defamation, claiming that Boeheim’s statements had caused him economic, emotional, and reputational harm.


Were Boeheim’s statements reasonably susceptible of a defamatory connotation?



Yes, Boeheim’s statements were reasonably susceptible of a defamatory connotation and were not otherwise privileged nonactionable “pure opinion.”


Falsity is a necessary element of a defamatory statement because only facts are capable of being proven false. A defamatory statement is different from a “pure opinion,” which is not actionable.

An opinion that implies that it is based on facts that are undisclosed is a mixed opinion because it draws on facts that the reader is unable to assess when evaluating the opinion. Mixed opinions are actionable.

First, in his statements, Boeheim used clear and specific language to communicate that Davis was a liar and his motive was financial gain. Second, Boeheim’s statements that Davis made false sexual abuse allegations against Fine to get money and the statements that Davis had made false statements in the past were not rhetorical hyperbole, but rather capable of being proven true or false.

Third, and most importantly, Boeheim’s statements, viewed in the overall context, reference facts that were not disclosed to the public (e.g., that Davis had made previous false statements). Boeheim spoke with authority as a well respected and exalted member of the University, and his initial statement was published by the University, confirming his status within the University and potential access to confidential information about the investigation. Finally, Boeheim’s first statement was issued before the University’s first press statement, indicating that he had access to other confidential information.

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