Skip to Content
The 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Section 10: Inspection and copies of public records; requests; written responses; extension of time; fees

Section 10. (a) A records access officer appointed pursuant to section 6A, or a designee, shall at reasonable times and without unreasonable delay permit inspection or furnish a copy of any public record as defined in clause twenty-sixth of section 7 of chapter 4, or any segregable portion of a public record, not later than 10 business days following the receipt of the request, provided that:

(i) the request reasonably describes the public record sought;

(ii) the public record is within the possession, custody or control of the agency or municipality that the records access officer serves; and

(iii) the records access officer receives payment of a reasonable fee as set forth in subsection (d).

A request for public records may be delivered to the records access officer by hand or via first class mail at the record officer's business address, or via electronic mail to the address posted by the agency or municipality that the records access officer serves.

(b) If the agency or municipality does not intend to permit inspection or furnish a copy of a requested record, or the magnitude or difficulty of the request, or of multiple requests from the same requestor, unduly burdens the other responsibilities of the agency or municipality such that the agency or municipality is unable to do so within the timeframe established in subsection (a), the agency or municipality shall inform the requestor in writing not later than 10 business days after the initial receipt of the request for public records. The written response shall be made via first class or electronic mail and shall:

(i) confirm receipt of the request;

(ii) identify any public records or categories of public records sought that are not within the possession, custody, or control of the agency or municipality that the records access officer serves;

(iii) identify the agency or municipality that may be in possession, custody or control of the public record sought, if known;

(iv) identify any records, categories of records or portions of records that the agency or municipality intends to withhold, and provide the specific reasons for such withholding, including the specific exemption or exemptions upon which the withholding is based, provided that nothing in the written response shall limit an agency's or municipality's ability to redact or withhold information in accordance with state or federal law;

(v) identify any public records, categories of records, or portions of records that the agency or municipality intends to produce, and provide a detailed statement describing why the magnitude or difficulty of the request unduly burdens the other responsibilities of the agency or municipality and therefore requires additional time to produce the public records sought;

(vi) identify a reasonable timeframe in which the agency or municipality shall produce the public records sought; provided, that for an agency, the timeframe shall not exceed 15 business days following the initial receipt of the request for public records and for a municipality the timeframe shall not exceed 25 business days following the initial receipt of the request for public records; and provided further, that the requestor may voluntarily agree to a response date beyond the timeframes set forth herein;

(vii) suggest a reasonable modification of the scope of the request or offer to assist the requestor to modify the scope of the request if doing so would enable the agency or municipality to produce records sought more efficiently and affordably;

(viii) include an itemized, good faith estimate of any fees that may be charged to produce the records; and

(ix) include a statement informing the requestor of the right of appeal to the supervisor of records under subsection (a) of section 10A and the right to seek judicial review of an unfavorable decision by commencing a civil action in the superior court under subsection (c) of section 10A.

(c) If the magnitude or difficulty of a request, or the receipt of multiple requests from the same requestor, unduly burdens the other responsibilities of the agency or municipality such that an agency or municipality is unable to complete the request within the time provided in clause (vi) of subsection (b), a records access officer may, as soon as practical and within 20 business days after initial receipt of the request, or within 10 business days after receipt of a determination by the supervisor of public records that the requested record constitutes a public record, petition the supervisor of records for an extension of the time for the agency or municipality to furnish copies of the requested record, or any portion of the requested record, that the agency or municipality has within its possession, custody or control and intends to furnish. The records access officer shall, upon submitting the petition to the supervisor of records, furnish a copy of the petition to the requestor. Upon a showing of good cause, the supervisor of records may grant a single extension to an agency not to exceed 20 business days and a single extension to a municipality not to exceed 30 business days. In determining whether the agency or municipality has established good cause, the supervisor of records shall consider, but shall not be limited to considering:

(i) the need to search for, collect, segregate or examine records;

(ii) the scope of redaction required to prevent unlawful disclosure;

(iii) the capacity or the normal business hours of operation of the agency or municipality to produce the request without the extension;

(iv) efforts undertaken by the agency or municipality in fulfilling the current request and previous requests;

(v) whether the request, either individually or as part of a series of requests from the same requestor, is frivolous or intended to harass or intimidate the agency or municipality; and

(vi) the public interest served by expeditious disclosure.

If the supervisor of records determines that the request is part of a series of contemporaneous requests that are frivolous or designed to intimidate or harass, and the requests are not intended for the broad dissemination of information to the public about actual or alleged government activity, the supervisor of records may grant a longer extension or relieve the agency or municipality of its obligation to provide copies of the records sought. The supervisor of records shall issue a written decision regarding a petition submitted by a records access officer under this subsection within 5 business days following receipt of the petition. The supervisor of records shall provide the decision to the agency or municipality and the requestor and shall inform the requestor of the right to seek judicial review of an unfavorable decision by commencing a civil action in the superior court.

(d) A records access officer may assess a reasonable fee for the production of a public record except those records that are freely available for public inspection. The reasonable fee shall not exceed the actual cost of reproducing the record. Unless expressly provided for otherwise, the fee shall be determined in accordance with the following:

(i) the actual cost of any storage device or material provided to a person in response to a request for public records under subsection (a) may be included as part of the fee, but the fee assessed for standard black and white paper copies or printouts of records shall not exceed 5 cents per page, for both single and double-sided black and white copies or printouts;

(ii) if an agency is required to devote more than 4 hours of employee time to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce the record or records requested, the records access officer may also include as part of the fee an hourly rate equal to or less than the hourly rate attributed to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill required to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a record requested, but the fee (A) shall not be more than $25 per hour; (B) shall not be assessed for the first 4 hours of work performed; and (C) shall not be assessed for time spent segregating or redacting records unless such segregation or redaction is required by law or approved by the supervisor of records under clause (iv);

(iii) if a municipality is required to devote more than 2 hours of employee time to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a record requested, the records access officer may include as part of the fee an hourly rate equal to or less than the hourly rate attributed to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill required to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce the record requested but the fee (A) shall not be more than $25 per hour unless such rate is approved by the supervisor of records under clause (iv); (B) shall not be assessed for the first 2 hours of work performed where the responding municipality has a population of over 20,000 people; and (C) shall not be assessed for time spent segregating or redacting records unless such segregation or redaction is required by law or approved by the supervisor of records under clause (iv);

(iv) the supervisor of records may approve a petition from an agency or municipality to charge for time spent segregating or redacting, or a petition from a municipality to charge in excess of $25 per hour, if the supervisor of records determines that (A) the request is for a commercial purpose; or (B) the fee represents an actual and good faith representation by the agency or municipality to comply with the request, the fee is necessary such that the request could not have been prudently completed without the redaction, segregation or fee in excess of $25 per hour and the amount of the fee is reasonable and the fee is not designed to limit, deter or prevent access to requested public records; provided, however, that:

1. in making a determination regarding any such petition, the supervisor of records shall consider the public interest served by limiting the cost of public access to the records, the financial ability of the requestor to pay the additional or increased fees and any other relevant extenuating circumstances;

2. an agency or municipality, upon submitting a petition under this clause, shall furnish a copy of the petition to the requestor;

3. the supervisor of records shall issue a written determination with findings regarding any such petition within 5 business days following receipt of the petition by the supervisor of public records; and

4. the supervisor of records shall provide the determination to the agency or municipality and the requestor and shall inform the requestor of the right to seek judicial review of an unfavorable decision by commencing a civil action in the superior court;

(v) the records access officer may waive or reduce the amount of any fee charged under this subsection upon a showing that disclosure of a requested record is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requestor, or upon a showing that the requestor lacks the financial ability to pay the full amount of the reasonable fee;

(vi) the records access officer may deny public records requests from a requester who has failed to compensate the agency or municipality for previously produced public records;

(vii) the records access officer shall provide a written notification to the requester detailing the reasons behind the denial, including an itemized list of any balances attributed to previously produced records;

(viii) a records access officer may not require the requester to specify the purpose for a request, except to determine whether the records are requested for a commercial purpose or whether to grant a request for a fee waiver; and

(ix) as used in this section ''commercial purpose'' shall mean the sale or resale of any portion of the public record or the use of information from the public record to advance the requester's strategic business interests in a manner that the requester can reasonably expect to make a profit, and shall not include gathering or reporting news or gathering information to promote citizen oversight or further the understanding of the operation or activities of government or for academic, scientific, journalistic or public research or education

(e) A records access officer shall not charge a fee for a public record unless the records access officer responded to the requestor within 10 business days under subsection (b).

(f) As used in this section, ''employee time'' means time required by employees or necessary vendors, including outside legal counsel, technology and payroll consultants or others as needed by the municipality.