Quasi-Judicial Public Bodies
Which quasi-judicial public bodies fall within exemption (d) to the definition of "meeting" as included in the OML?
The revised Open Meeting Law carves out a specific exception in the definition of "Meeting" for quasi-judicial bodies in certain circumstances. It states that a meeting subject to the Open Meeting Law shall not include "a meeting of a quasi-judicial board or commission held for the sole purpose of making a decision required in an adjudicatory proceeding brought before it." G.L. c. 30A, § 18. However, the OML does not define "quasi-judicial" and there is some confusion as to whether the exemption applies to local "quasi-judicial" bodies, such as zoning boards. It generally does not. The exemption applies only to certain state "quasi-judicial" bodies, and a very limited number of public bodies at other levels of government whose proceedings are specifically subject to G.L. c. 30A.
This conclusion is based on the plain language of the definitions included in the revised Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, §18, read in harmony with the definition section found at G.L. c. 30A, § 1. That section defines "adjudicatory proceeding" as "a proceeding before an agency in which the legal rights, duties or privileges of specifically named persons are required by constitutional right or by any provision of the General Laws to be determined after opportunity for an agency hearing." G.L. c. 30A, § 1(1) (emphasis added). Chapter 30A, § 1(2), defines "agency" as:
[A]ny department, board, commission, division or authority of the state government or subdivision of any of the foregoing, or official of the state government, authorized by law to make regulations or to conduct adjudicatory proceedings, but does not include the following: the legislative and judicial departments; the governor and council; military or naval boards, commissions or officials; the department of correction; the department of youth services; the parole board; the division of dispute resolution of the division of industrial accidents; the personnel administrator; the civil service commission; and the appellate tax board.
G.L. c. 30A, § 1(2) (emphasis added). Applying these definitions to G.L. c. 30A, § 18, an adjudicatory proceeding of a quasi-judicial board or commission may only be held by an agency, and an agency is an entity of state government. Therefore, exemption (d) to the definition of "meeting" under G.L. c. 30A, § 18, applies almost exclusively to state public bodies holding adjudicatory proceedings under G.L. c. 30A. It may also apply to a very limited number of other public bodies whose governing statutes specifically direct them to hold adjudicatory proceedings in accordance with G.L. c. 30A.
State "quasi-judicial" public bodies are cautioned that they must still follow the requirements of the Open Meeting Law, including posting notice of meetings, retaining minutes, and opening their meetings to the public. The "quasi-judicial" exemption from the definition of "meeting" is limited to meetings held "for the sole purpose of making a decision required in an adjudicatory proceeding brought before it." Id. (emphasis added). The adjudicatory proceeding itself must still be open to the public.