Making a Request for Public Records
The Massachusetts Public Records Law, found at Chapter 66, Section 10 of the Massachusetts General Laws, applies to records made or received by a Massachusetts governmental entity. Unless the requested records fall under an exemption to the Law, the responsive documents must be made available to the requester. A list of exemptions may be found at Chapter 4, Section 7(26) of the Massachusetts General Laws.
On June 3, 2016, Governor Baker signed An Act to Improve Public Records into law. Many of the provisions in the new law took effect on January 1, 2017.
Under the new provisions, agencies and municipalities are required to designate 1 or more Records Access Officer (RAO). The RAO has a duty to:
- Coordinate the agency's or municipality's response to requests for access to public records
- Assist individuals seeking public records in identifying the records requested
- Assist the custodian of records in preserving public records
- Prepare guidelines that enable requestors to make informed requests.
As of January 1, 2017, the Records Access Officer (RAO) must provide public records to a requestor in an electronic format unless the record is not available in an electronic format or the requestor does not have the ability to receive or access the records in a useable electronic format.
Additionally, as of January 1, 2017, agency RAOs will be required to provide on a searchable website electronic copies of commonly requested records, including: final opinions, annual reports, minutes of open meetings and agency budgets. Municipal RAOs will also be required to post commonly requested records on their municipal websites, to the extent feasible.
Beginning January 1, 2017, a RAO must permit inspection or furnish a copy of a requested public record within 10 business days following receipt of the request. RAOs may petition the Supervisor of Records for an extension if they are unable to grant access to the requested public records in this time period.
While requests for records may be made verbally, in person, it is preferable to make the request in writing to reduce confusion. A copy of the written request is required to file an appeal with the Supervisor of Records.
The Supervisor of Records' Public Access Regulations allowing records custodians to charge 5 cents for black and white paper copies or computer printouts of public records for both single and double-sided sheets was codified and will remain effective with the new law.
Beginning January 1, 2017, if a response to a public records request requires more than 2 hours of employee time, a municipal RAO may assess a fee of the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee with the skills necessary to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a requested record. However, the fee shall not exceed $25 an hour, unless approved by the Supervisor of Records. Municipalities with populations of 20,000 people or fewer will be permitted to charge for the first 2 hours of employee time.
As of January 1, 2017, if an agency or municipality fails to comply with a requirement of the new law, the requestor may file an appeal with the Supervisor of Records who will then issue a determination on the public status of the records within 10 business days of receipt of the request for an appeal.
Under the new Public Records Law, if a requestor prevails in a court action against an agency or municipal RAO, the court may award the requestor attorney fees or costs.
Making a Public Records Request
Anyone may request records directly to the RAO. The Law does not require any specific format for making a request, but the sample below may be helpful. It is recommended that your request contain the following information:
Date request mailed
Agency Head or Keeper of the Records
Name of Agency
Address of Agency
City, State, Zip Code
Re: Massachusetts Public Records Request
This is a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M. G. L. Chapter 66, Section 10). I am requesting that I be provided a copy of the following records:
[Please include a detailed description of the information you are seeking.]
I recognize that you may charge reasonable costs for copies, as well as for personnel time needed to comply with this request. If you expect costs to exceed $10.00, please provide a detailed fee estimate.
The Public Records Law requires you to provide me with a written response within 10 calendar days. If you cannot comply with my request, you are statutorily required to provide an explanation in writing.
Contact Information (address, email, telephone)
If you do not receive a satisfactory response you may appeal to the Supervisor of Records. See Appealing a Denial of Access to Public Records in Massachusetts for more information.
For additional information about making a request or filing an appeal, see 950 CMR 32.08 (2).