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NY top court reinstates slander suit by former ball boys against Syracuse coach Boeheim

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ALBANY, New York — New York's highest court on Tuesday reinstated the slander lawsuit filed by two former Syracuse University ball boys against basketball head coach Jim Boeheim.

Bobby Davis and Mike Lang say Boeheim slandered them in 2011 by calling them liars out for money when they accused his longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine of molesting them as children.

A judge dismissed the suit last year, ruling Boeheim's comments were not assertions of fact but opinions protected from defamation lawsuits. A midlevel court agreed.

Fine denied the allegations and never faced criminal charges.

The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that they cannot conclude Boeheim's statements were "pure opinion" and that there's "a reasonable view" that Davis and Lang would be entitled to recover damages for defamation.

Attorney Mariann Meier Wang said the case will ultimately return to the state trial court in Syracuse, where the discovery phase can take six months to a year. "Now we get to prove our case and we get to prove that Bobby Davis and Mike Lang were sexually abused as children. We look forward to proving that and that Jim Boeheim made false statements that were defamatory and denigrating of them."

Attorney Helen Cantwell, representing Boeheim, referred questions to university spokesman Kevin Quinn.

"We are still reviewing the decision," Quinn said. "We understand that the case will now be returned to the trial court, at which point we will assess our options going forward."

Judge Jenny Rivera wrote that New York courts consider three factors in considering whether something is opinion where you cannot sue: whether the words have precise meanings and are readily understood, whether the statements can be proved true or false, and whether in the broader context and circumstances they signal to readers or listeners whether they are likely to constitute fact or opinion.

"Here, Boeheim stated that Davis and Lang lied and did so for monetary gain, and that Davis had done so in the past," Rivera wrote. "Boeheim's assertions that Davis previously made the same claims, for the same purpose, communicated that Boeheim was relying on undisclosed facts that would justify Boeheim's statements that Davis and Lang were neither credible nor victims of sexual abuse."

Rivera added that denying knowledge of facts or prefacing some statements by saying "I believe" were "insufficient" to transform his statements into pure opinion because a reasonable reader in context could still view his statements as supported by undisclosed facts.

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