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Massachusetts Law About Freedom of Information and Public Records

Massachusetts Laws

Massachusetts Regulations

Federal Laws


Freedom of Information Forms

Selected Case Law

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

General Electric Co. v. Department of Environmental Protection, 429 Mass. 798 (1999) Materials privileged as work product are not protected from disclosure under the public records statute, unless they fall within the scope of an express statutory exemption.

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 (see General Electric, above) 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 Municipal Records Retention Manual, Secretary of the Commonwealth, 2010. This 175-page book provides detailed guidance in the storage and disposal of records.

Massachusetts Statewide Records Retention Schedule, Records Conservation Board, as amended through August 2012. This 296-page document includes everything you need to know about state records retention.

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

Other Web Sources

Police Records

Access to Police Records: Massachusetts, Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. Discussion of SPR Bulletin 3-03, Public Record Requests and C.O.R.I. (Nov. 21, 2003).

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

Public Record Requests and CORI, SPR Bulletin 3-03. "There is little doubt that MOST police records are public records and must be available to anyone upon request."

Other Public Records

A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records (106th Congress, 1st session, House Report 106-50)

Electronic Records Management Guidelines, Supervisor of Public Records, 2011. Includes information on e-mail retention and other electronic records.

Executive Order 13392: Improving Agency Disclosure of Information, President George W. Bush, December 14, 2005.

Freedom of Information Services, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Tons of advice and information, including a "Fully-Automated Fill-in-the-Blanks FOI Letter Generator," for use by both the press and public.

Government Center:'s Guide to Public Records, Databases, and Useful Information, A partial list of the more "interesting or useful" sites for "public records and other information -- corporate filings, campaign contributions, property value." Links include brief descriptions. Great resource.

Guidelines on the Public's Right of Access to Judicial Proceedings and Records, Mass. Supreme Judicial Court. Developed "to assist you in identifying relevant court rules, statutes and case law covering a variety of issues which relate to judicial proceedings."

Massachusetts Public Notices, My Public Provides online access to public notice advertisements from nearly 100 newspapers throughout Massachusetts. Notices include government contracts, foreclosures, unclaimed property, community information and more. Clear search interface. Users can also choose to sign up for email notices of just the types of notices that interest them.

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, Public Records Division, including: A Guide to Massachusetts Public Records Law, Example of a FOI request letter and instructions on Appealing a Denial.

Newsgathering in Massachusetts, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, May 2013. Covers open meetings, public records law, access to courts and court records, recording public officials and more, with extensive footnotes to primary law sources.

Open Government Guide: MA, Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. Extremely detailed guide to open records and open meetings, presented in outline form.

Segregating and Marking Documents for Release in Accordance with the Open Government Act, US Dept. of Justice. Provides guidance for government officials in how to comply with the Open Government Act's requirement "that when marking documents to indicate the amount of information deleted, and the location of that deletion, agencies should also indicate the exemption being asserted."

Print Sources

Access to Government in the Computer Age: An Examination of State Public Records Law, American Bar Association, 2007.

Freedom of Information and Public Records Law in Massachusetts, 3rd ed., by Rebecca S. Murray, MCLE, 2012.

Guidebook to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, 2d ed., Justin D. Franklin and Robert F. Bouchard, editors, West Group, loose-leaf.

Massachusetts Practice, vol. 18 (Municipal Law) West Group, 2006 with supplement, chapter 8; vol. 39 (Administrative Law and Practice) West Group, 1986 with supplement, chapters 16 and 18.

Public Records and Open Meetings Laws, MCLE, 2008.

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


Massachusetts Secretary of State Public Records Division
1 Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 727-2832

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
1815 N. Ft. Myer Drive, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22209
(800) 336-4243