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Massachusetts law about freedom of information and public records

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on freedom of information and public records law by the Trial Court Law Libraries.
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Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.4 s. 7 cl. 26 Definition of Public Records
MGL c.66 Public Records
MGL c.66A Fair Information Practices Act
St. 2016, c.121 (H4333) Act to Improve Public Records. Provides sweeping changes to public records law. Most provisions were effective January 1, 2017.

Massachusetts regulations and guidelines

940 CMR 11 Fair Information Practices Act
950 CMR 32 Public Records Access Regulations
950 CMR 33 Information Practices Regulations

Public Records Response Guidelines for Executive Branch Secretariats and Agencies , Gov. Baker, July 30, 2015.
Memo to cabinet secretaries outlines requirements for responses to requests, including standardized charges and more.

Federal laws

5 USC 552 Freedom of Information Act

Forms

Example of a FOI request letter, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Fully Automated Fill-in-the Blanks FOI Letter Generator, from the Student Press Law Center.

Selected case law

Champa v. Weston Public Schools, 473 Mass. 86 (2015). 
A "settlement agreement, regarding a public school's placement of a student who required special education services in an out-of-district private educational institution, between the public school and the parents of the student was exempt from the definition of “public records” ... and therefore not subject to disclosure... without a redaction of personally identifiable information..."

Comm. v. Fremont Investment and Loan, 459 Mass. 209 (2011)
Massachusetts "public records law does not abrogate judicial protective orders."

Comm. v. Fujita, 470 Mass. 484 (2015)
A list of jurors must be "retained in the court file of the case and be made available to the public in the same manner as other court records; further, this court concluded that only on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or to the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld."

DaRosa v. New Bedford, 471 Mass. 446 (2015)
"We no longer hold to the view declared in General Electric [v. DEP, 429 Mass. 798 (1999)] that there are no implied exemptions to the public records act, and that all records in the possession of a governmental entity must be disclosed under the act unless they fall within one of the exemptions identified in G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth."

Hull Municipal Lighting Plant v. Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., 414 Mass. 609 (1993)
Public records are broadly defined and include all documentary materials made or received by an officer or employee of any corporation or public entity of the Commonwealth unless one of the nine statutory exemptions is applicable

Lambert v. Judicial Nominating Council, 425 Mass. 406 (1997)
In concluding that the records of the Judicial Nominating Council are not public records, the court said, in part, " Neither the Legislature nor the Judiciary are expressly included in G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth... Likewise, the Governor also is not explicitly included in clause Twenty-sixth. 'Like the Legislature and the Judiciary, the Governor possesses incidental powers which he can exercise in aid of his primary responsibility.' "

Peckham v. Boston Herald, Inc., 48 Mass. App. Ct. 282 (1999)
Judicial records are not within the law's definition of "public records," and so that law's privacy exemption did not apply in an invasion of privacy suit arising from a newspaper's reporting on a paternity action

Suffolk Construction v. Dept. of Capital Asset Management, 449 Mass. 444 (2007)
In distinguishing the work-product doctrine from attorney-client privilege, the court ruled that documents covered by the attorney-client privilege are not subject to Massachusetts' public records law

Worcester Telegram & Gazette v. Chief of Police of Worcester, 58 Mass. App. Ct. 1 (2003)
"[M]aterials in an internal affairs investigation are different in kind from the ordinary evaluations, performance assessments and disciplinary determinations encompassed in the public records exemption for 'personnel [file] or information.'"

Record retention schedules

MGL c. 66, § 8: Preservation of Certain Books, Papers and Records; Destruction of Certain Original Instruments
Law gives the timeline for keeping state, county, city and town records

Massachusetts Records Retention Schedules, Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Searchable database of municipal and statewide records retention schedules, providing detailed guidance in the storage and disposal of records

Massachusetts Trial Court Record Retention Schedule, Administrative Office of the Trial Court
Outlines requirements for each court department.

Web sources

Police Records

Other Public Records

Print sources

Administrative Law, Bender, Chapter 10A, Preventing disclosure of information : the “Reverse FOIA” case

Bender’s Forms of Discovery, volume 16, chapter 14 “Freedom of information law and discovery”

Freedom of Information and Public Records Law in Massachusetts,  MCLE, 2015

Guidebook to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, West Group, loose-leaf

Massachusetts Practice, vol. 18 (Municipal Law) Thomson/West, with supplement, chapter 8; vol. 39 (Administrative Law and Practice) West Pub. Co, with supplement, chapters 16 and 18

Public records and open meeting law, MCLE, 2017.

"State Freedom of Information Act Requests: Right to Receive Information in Particular Medium or Format," 86 ALR4th 786

Contact

Phone

Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only

Online

Reference librarians online Chat with a law librarian 
Reference librarians via email masslawlib@gmail.com

Address

Administrative office (no law library at this location)
2 Center Plaza
9th Floor
Boston, MA 02108
Last updated: June 18, 2018

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