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.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Best bet the national FOIA portal
A great place to start for federal Freedom of Information Act requests. This site includes information and forms to help you submit FOIA requests. Also includes contact information for FOIA officers and liaisons at government agencies.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.4, § 7 cl. 26 Definition of public records

MGL c.66 Public records

  • § 10B Permits disclosure of public employees' personal email addresses and phone numbers to unions in certain circumstances

MGL c.66A Fair information practices act

Massachusetts regulations and guidelines

940 CMR 11 Fair information practices act

950 CMR 32 Public records access regulations

950 CMR 33 Information practices regulations

Federal laws

5 USC § 552 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)


Fully automated fill-in-the-blanks FOI letter generator, from the Student Press Law Center.

Making a request for public records, Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Includes a sample letter.

Selected case law

Attorney General v. Plymouth County District Attorney, 484 Mass. 260 (2020)
"We conclude that the data sought by the Globe from the district attorneys would be 'specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure' under the CORI act if the individuals whose cases were tracked by this data could be directly or indirectly identified, because a criminal history of these individuals could then be compiled from this data that may be more extensive than what members of the public are permitted to obtain under the CORI act. We also conclude that if the court case docket number (docket number) for each case were segregated and redacted from the remaining categories of information, these individuals could not be directly or indirectly identified from this data. We also conclude that a request such as this, which requires the extraction of categories of information from an existing database, does not impose burdens on public record holders that exceed what is required under the public records law."

Boston Globe Media Partners v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, 483 Mass. 80 (2019)
"[We] conclude that there is not a presumptive right of public access to the records of all show cause hearings where a judicial officer finds probable cause to believe that the accused has committed a crime but declines to issue a criminal complaint. We recognize, however, that there are circumstances in which the interests of justice would require the records of particular show cause hearings to be made publicly available on request."

Boston Globe Media Partners v. Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services, 484 Mass. 279 (2020)
"We also conclude that, had the law enforcement agencies asserted the privacy exemption…these records would not be exempt from disclosure where the subjects of the requested records are public officials and the public interests in disclosure substantially outweigh the privacy interests in rehabilitation and reintegration furthered by the CORI act. There is a substantial public interest in the disclosure of police incident reports regarding alleged offenses by police officers and public officials that do not result in arraignment."

Boston Globe Media Group, LLC v. Dept. of Public Health, 482 Mass. 427 (2019)
"It follows from these cases, and from our recognition today that there may be a greater privacy interest in a compilation of personal information than in the discrete information that a compilation summarizes, that the availability of a requested compilation itself, not merely the availability of information that makes up the compilation, will significantly reduce the privacy interest in that compilation."

Champa v. Weston Public Schools, 473 Mass. 86 (2015)
"We conclude that the settlement agreements, regarding placement of students in out-of-district private educational institutions, are exempt from the definition of "public records" in G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth. The agreements qualify as "education records" under…Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and as such, fit within exemption (a) of the definition of “public records,” G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (a) (exemption [a]). The settlement agreements also contain information that relates to specifically named individuals, the disclosure of which may qualify as an 'unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,' and therefore fit within exemption (c), G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (c) (exemption [c]). We further conclude, however, that the settlement agreements may be redacted to remove personally identifiable information they contain, after which they become subject to disclosure under G. L. c. 66, § 10, the Massachusetts public records law."

Comm. v. Fremont Investment and Loan, 459 Mass. 209 (2011)
"We conclude that the public records action judge held properly that the public records law does not abrogate judicial protective orders…"

Comm. v. Fujita, 470 Mass. 484 (2015)
This court concluded that the public's long-term interest in maintaining an open judicial process, as embodied in the United States Constitution and Massachusetts common law, required that a list identifying the names of jurors who have been empaneled and rendered a verdict in a criminal case 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."

Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, __ U.S. __ (June 24, 2019)
"Where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of privacy, the information is 'confidential' within [the Freedom of Information Act] Exemption 4's meaning."

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 nine statutory exemptions is applicable. G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (a)-(l)…On request public records are subject to mandatory disclosure. See G. L. c. 66, § 10 (b). Statutory exemptions are strictly construed and the custodian of the document has the burden of proving that the requested document is not within the purview of a public record."

Lambert v. Judicial Nominating Council, 425 Mass. 406 (1997)
"Questionnaires completed by applicants for judicial appointment and submitted to the Governor through the Judicial Nominating Council (JNC) are not public records under G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth."

Larrabee v. Mass. Commission Against Discrimination, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 516 (2019)
"In a civil action challenging a decision of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (commission) denying the plaintiff's public records request (for discrimination complaints and case data without regard to whether investigation of those charges was open or closed), a Superior Court judge erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the commission, where neither G. L. c. 151B, § 5, a provision of the Massachusetts antidiscrimination statute nor 804 Code Mass. Regs. § 1, created an exemption to the definition of public records…"

Rahim v. District Attorney of Suffolk County, 486 Mass. 544 (2020)
"[M]aterials that a district attorney requested and received from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were public records within the meaning of G. L. c. 66, § 10."

Suffolk Construction v. Dept. of Capital Asset Management, 449 Mass. 444 (2007)
Confidential communications between public officers and employees and governmental entities and their legal counsel, undertaken for the purpose of obtaining legal advice or assistance, are protected under the normal rules of the attorney-client privilege…and the provisions of the public records law…did not extinguish the protection provided by the attorney-client privilege to records made or kept by public officers or employees and governmental entities subject to that 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, Mass. 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

Internal affairs and personnel records, SPR bulletin 3-04
Documents in an internal affairs investigation record are different from ordinary evaluation or discipline determinations. They are not typically not exempt from public records law as personnel information.

Other Public Records

Print sources

Administrative law, Matthew Bender, Part III: Public Information.

Administrative law and practice, 2nd ed. (Mass Practice v.39), Thomson Reuters, 2016 with supplement. Chapters 16 and 18.

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

Freedom of information and public records law in Massachusetts, 4th ed., MCLE, 2015.

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

“Litigation Under Freedom of Information Act,” 110 AmJur Trials 367.

Massachusetts administrative law and practice, LexisNexis Practice Guide. Annual. Chapter 5, 6. 

Municipal law and practice, 5th ed. (Mass Practice v.18), Thomson/West, 2006 with supplement. Chapter 8.

Public records and open meeting law, MCLE, 2020.

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


Last updated: March 17, 2023

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