Opinion  EC-COI-87-9

Date: 04/06/1987
Organization: State Ethics Commission

A member of the city council may initiate a lawsuit against the council in connection with a prior council's termination of his employment with the city.

Table of Contents


Page 139

You formerly served as a city official until your termination by the City Council in 1984. In March, 1987, you authorized your attorney to initiate a lawsuit against the City and the City Council in connection with your termination. The lawsuit alleges damages to your reputation and violations of your civil rights, as well as failure of the City to honor certain contractual benefit provisions. Although you seek money damages and other favorable determinations of your rights, you state that you do not seek reinstatement to your former position. You indicate, however, that you would be willing to serve as acting official if a vacancy occurred in the permanent position.

On January 2,1986, following a successful city-wide election, you began a two-year term as a member of the City Council.


1. Does G.L. c. 268A prohibit you from initiating a lawsuit against a governmental body with which you are associated?

2. Assuming that you may initiate the lawsuit, what limitations does G.L. c. 268A place on your official conduct as a member of the City Council?


1. No.

2. You are subject to certain limitations discussed below.


As a member of the City Council, you are a municipal employee for the purposes of G.L. c. 268A. Three sections of G.L. c. 268A are relevant to your questions.

1. Section 17

This section prohibits a municipal employee from either receiving compensation from or acting as agent or attorney for a non-town party in connection with any particular matter in which the town is a party. While your lawsuit is a particular matter in which the City is a party, your initiating the lawsuit does not place you in violation of s.17 because you are neither receiving compensation from nor acting as attorney for a non-city party in connection with the lawsuit. Moreover, even if you were acting as your own attorney, the Commission has recognized that a municipal employee does not violate s.17(c) by acting on his own behalf. See,
EC-COI-85-12. On the other hand, s.17 would apply if you were representing the interests of others in connection with the lawsuit. See, Edgartown v. State Ethics Commission, 391 Mass. 83(1984).

2. Section 19

Section 19 prohibits you from participating as a City Councillor in any decision, determination or other particular matter in which you have a reasonably foreseeable financial interest. Because the lawsuit is particular matter which affects your financial interest, you must abstain from any discussion or vote concerning the lawsuit. To avoid the improper disclosure of litigation strategy, you must also leave the room during such discussions or votes.

A similar restriction applies to the particular matter of the decision to retain the current official. Because you have expressed an interest in serving as interim official, if a vacancy were to occur, you have a foreseeable financial interest in this particular matter. Should you disavow any interest in serving as an official on an interim basis, however, then the abstention requirements of s.19 would not apply to your participation in decisions concerning the status of the current official.

3. Section 23

This section prohibits you from using your official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions of substantial value, and from engaging in conduct which creates a reasonable impression that you are likely to act because of the position or undue influence of any party or person. You are also required to refrain from improperly seeking and disclosing confidential information. These principles apply to you in connection with your official dealings with other city councillors as well as with the current official. You will comply with those restrictions by keeping separate the course of your lawsuit from your exercise of official duties as City Councillor.[1]

[1] Should you and the City settle your lawsuit, any resulting settlement agreement would not, as a matter of sound policy, place you in violation of s.20. See, EC-COI-84-27.


End Of Decision

Help Us Improve Mass.gov  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.