Public Records Requests in Massachusetts: Sample requests and follow-up letters
Sample record requests and successful efforts to get an agency to give information in a more timely manner
The law states that records shall be produced for inspection "without unreasonable delay," and also that within 10 days' receipt of request, the record keeper must comply with the request. G.L. c. 66, § 10(b). See generally G.L. c. 66, § 10; G.L. c. 4, § 7, cl. 26; 950 CMR 32. If you do not get an initial response within the 10 day period, or you think that the response is inadequate, you may have to follow up with the agency and with the Office of the Secretary of State to get your information.
Be aware that, per a July 30, 2015 Memorandum from Governor Baker, all secretariats and agencies are advised to 1) designate a records access officer, 2) establish a public records requests tracking system, 3) contact records requesters early, 4) waive search and retrieval rees, 5) limit time spent on requests from a single requester, 6) charge standardized production costs, 7) produce electronically searchable documents, 8) coordinate with related offices on requests, and 9) post frequently requested public records and information.
Administrative Appeal: You can formally appeal a denial of your request within 90 days of the request. You can request an order through the Supervisor of Public Records in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. G.L. c. 66, § 10(b); 950 CMR 32.08(2).
Initiating a Complaint: If there is an actual denial of your request, you can alternatively bring a court case at that time. “In any court proceeding pursuant to . . . [G.L. c. 66, § 10(b), non-compliance with a request] there shall be a presumption that the record sought is public, and the burden shall be upon the custodian to prove with specificity the exemption which applies.” G.L. c. 66, § 10(C).
Sample public records requests:
Samples of follow-up actions with Keepers of Records and with the Secretary of State:
- Trail of Public Records Requests with the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), and follow-up letters while the agency was not complying with the requests. For these requests, the MLRI Attorney was able to get the materials requested after sending a letter to the Supervisor of Records (Office of the Secretary of State), and after DTA received a call from the Office of the Secretary of State. She was also able to access related materials she requested from the same agency the following year without going through the Secretary of State.
- Sample Appeal from Denial of Access to Public Records. After two public records requests went unanswered, the MLRI Attorney sent this letter to the Supervisor of Records, notifying that office of the non-compliance.
- Seeking an order from the Supervisor of Records (Secretary of State) regarding an outstanding public records request with the DTA. For this request, the MLRI attorney was able to get the materials requested after sending a letter to the Supervisor of Records.
- Sample Request Compliance Order. The MLRI attorney was able to get the Supervisor of Records to order compliance, as detailed in this letter.
The following websites describe the general process for getting information from various agencies in greater detail, and offer sample forms that you can fill out.
- The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries’ excellent page on Freedom of Information and Public Records has links to organizations such as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Secretary of State, to caselaw and the relevant statutes and regulations, and to internet and print resources, among others.
- The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a brief guide to Massachusetts Freedom of Information, including strategies for following up with an agency while waiting for information (see How Long to Wait).
- Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law (Mass. Sec’y of State, rev’d March 2009).
- The Justice Department has a FOIA site on federal FOIA requests. Many agencies offer their own online form that you can fill out. See How do I make a FOIA request?