Massachusetts Public Records Act

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The Massachusetts Public Records Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Massachusetts. It is located at Part I, Title X, Chapter 66 of the Massachusetts General Laws.

The Massachusetts Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Massachusetts FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Massachusetts sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Massachusetts (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).

Lawsuit Year
Attorney General v. School Committee of Northampton 1978
Bello v. South Shore Hospital 1981
Bougas v. Chief of Police of Lexington 1976
Connelly v. School Committee of Hanover 1991
District Attorney for the Plymouth District v. Board of Selectmen of Middleborough 1985
Gerstein v. Superintendent Search Screening Committee 1989
Ghiglione v. School Committee of Southbridge 1978
Globe Newspaper Co. v. Boston Retirement Board 1983
Hastings & Sons Publishing Co. v. City Treasurer of Lynn 1978
Pearson v. Board of Health of Chicopee 1988
Pottle v. School Committee of Braintree 1985
Yaro v. Board of Appeals of Newburyport 1980

Proposed changes


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

We do not have any legislation for Massachusetts in 2011.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

We do not have any legislation for Massachusetts in 2010.

Massachusetts's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Massachusetts #20 in the nation with an overall percentage of 54.30%.[1]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Massachusetts 31 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 43 out of the 50 states.[2]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Massachusetts's law as the 35th worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "D+."[3]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The Massachusetts law does not contain a clearly defined declared legal intention.

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Public records are defined as "all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any agency."[4]


Exceptions include:[4]

  • Personal contact information of individuals who own firearms, law enforcement, youth services, social services and department of corrections personnel and victims of crimes[5]
  • Records that are required to be exempted in order to maintain the proper functioning of government (4-7-26-B)
  • Medical files and other files that would result in an invasion of privacy (4-7-26-C)
  • Memorandum relating to policies being developed (4-7-26-D)
  • Law enforcement investigations (4-7-26-F)
  • Trade secrets (4-7-26-G)
  • Appraisals for potential property purchases (4-7-26-I)
  • Examinations (4-7-26-L)
  • Hospital contracts (4-7-26-M)
  • Records that would jeopardize security (4-7-26-N)
  • Home contact information of all state employees and their families (4-7-26-O, P)
  • Adoption information (4-7-26-Q)

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

State agencies are defined as any "agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose."[4] While the first portion of the definition pertains to only the executive, the latter may be extended to include all governing bodies.


See also: Legislatures and transparency

The Massachusetts General Court is explicitly exempt from the Massachusetts Public Records Act under Title X, Chapter 66, Section 18.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Massachusetts

The Massachusetts law does not contain any provisions that clearly bring private entities within the scope of the open records law. However, Bello v. South Shore Hospital established a potential test considering the private entities funding, function and whether a public body controls or manages the private entity. While none of these factors are required, the test considers them all to establish the possibility that the private entity is in fact a public body.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, testing and exam material are explicitly exempted at Mass. General Laws 4-7-26-L.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

Anyone may request public documents in Massachusetts. Records custodians shall permit public records "to be inspected and examined by any person."[6]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

No statement of purpose is required when requesting records.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

No restrictions are placed on the use of records.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Massachusetts' law allows 10 days for record responses.[7]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Reasonable fees for records may include the actual cost of duplication.[8]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

Reasonable fees for records may be charged to cover the actual cost of record searches.[9]

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

The Supervisor of Public Records, authorized under Chapter 66 § 10(b) of the state's General Laws, "may notify the attorney general or the appropriate district attorney thereof who may take whatever measures he deems necessary to insure compliance with the provisions of this section."[10] The state Attorney General decides on a case-by-case basis as to whether to take up court action in order to ensure compliance with the law. The Attorney General, however, is not authorized to request specific oversight of a public records request.

Open meetings

"All meetings of a governmental body shall be open to the public and any person shall be permitted to attend any meeting."[11]

See also

External links