Hastings & Sons Pub. Co. v. City Treasurer of Lynn

Decision Date18 April 1978
Citation375 N.E.2d 299,374 Mass. 812
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
Parties, 100 A.L.R.3d 689 HASTINGS & SONS PUBLISHING COMPANY 1 v. CITY TREASURER OF LYNN et al. (and a companion case).

Henry Wise, Boston, for defendants.

Charles E. Schaub, Jr., Boston (Nicholas G. Curuby, Lynn, with him), for plaintiff.

Francis X. Bellotti, Atty. Gen., and Jonathan Brant, Asst. Atty. Gen., amicus curiae, submitted a brief.


LIACOS, Justice.

The defendant members of the Lynn police department bring this appeal from a judgment in the Superior Court ordering the defendant treasurer of the city of Lynn (treasurer) to allow the plaintiff access to city payroll records for the year 1975. The Lynn policemen also appeal an order revoking a preliminary injunction which prohibited the disclosure of the financial records of members of the Lynn police department. 2 We affirm the order and the judgment on the ground that payroll records of municipal employees, including records of disbursements to police for off-duty work details, are subject to disclosure under G.L. c. 66, § 10.

On January 6, 1976, the plaintiff formally requested the treasurer of Lynn to disclose the "(b)ase salaries and overtime payments for the calendar year 1975 of any and all categories of employees of the City of Lynn, including employees of the School Department." The information the plaintiff sought can be found in the municipal employee payroll records, prepared and maintained by the treasurer. The treasurer also keeps records of the monies received by the city for work performed by municipal employees on off-duty work details or on special detail work. See G.L. c. 44, § 53C. 3 These financial statements contain the name, address, base pay, overtime pay, miscellaneous payments, and gross pay of every municipal employee in Lynn.

When the treasurer refused to comply with the request for access to these records, the plaintiff initiated this suit by filing a complaint in the Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 66, § 10. Thereafter, the plaintiff and the treasurer executed a stipulation of facts, and the plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings and the stipulation. See Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(c), 365 Mass. 754 (1974). The stipulation stated that the treasurer refused to furnish the requested records to the plaintiff due to an outstanding preliminary injunction prohibiting him from disclosing the payroll records of members of the Lynn police department. Members of the Lynn police force, "on behalf of themselves and on behalf of all other police officer(s)" of Lynn, had obtained this injunction in their action against certain municipal officers of Lynn. The stipulation provided that on dissolution of such injunction the treasurer would comply with the plaintiff's demand for access to the city payroll records.

Since members of the Lynn police department claimed an interest relating to the subject matter of the action brought by the plaintiff, the trial judge joined the police as parties defendant in the instant case for the limited purpose of asserting any defense predicated on G.L. c. 214, § 1B (the privacy statute), or on any enforceable right of privacy. 4 See Mass.R.Civ.P. 19, 21, 365 Mass. 765, 767 (1974). See also Mass.R.Civ.P. 22, 365 Mass. 767 (1974). The policemen then filed a memorandum in support of the right to privacy, a pleading entitled "Answer, Counterclaim, and Petition for Declaratory Relief" and an affidavit in support thereof. After oral argument, the judge revoked the preliminary injunction and ordered the treasurer to permit the plaintiff to inspect and examine those records containing base salaries and overtime payments for the calendar year 1975 of all categories of employees of Lynn. The policemen appealed to the Appeals Court, and we transferred the case here.

1. Public records issue. For many years Massachusetts, has, by statute, required public access to various records and documents in the possession of its public officials. The first such statute, passed in 1851, provided for the maintenance of and access to municipal, county and town records. St.1851, c. 161. See also St.1897, c. 439. The present form of the public records statute is found in G.L. c. 66, § 10, as appearing in St.1973, c. 1050, § 3, and provides in part: "Every person having custody of any public records . . . shall, at reasonable times and without unreasonable delay, permit them to be inspected and examined by any person, under his supervision, and shall furnish one copy thereof on payment of a reasonable fee. Every person for whom a search of public records is made shall, at the direction of the person having custody of such records, pay the actual expense of such search."

Prior to 1973, a record was not "public" unless an entry had been made pursuant to a requirement of law, Town Crier, Inc. v. Chief of Police of Weston, 361 Mass. 682, 687, 282 N.E.2d 379 (1972), or the record had been received or required to be received for filing, Dunn v. Assessors of Sterling, 361 Mass. 692, 694, 282 N.E.2d 385 (1972); Lord v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, 347 Mass. 608, 611, 199 N.E.2d 316 (1964). The 1973 amendment to the statutory definition of public records brings a great many more documents to public view. See Bougas v. Chief of Police of Lexington, --- Mass. --- a, 354 N.E.2d 872 (1976); Wolfe v. Massachusetts Port Auth., 366 Mass. 417, 421 n.3, 319 N.E.2d 423 (1974). This broad definition of public records found in G.L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth, as amended through St.1973, c. 1050, § 1, provides, in relevant part: " 'Public records' shall mean all . . . financial statements . . . regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of . . . any political subdivision . . . (of the Commonwealth) . . . (with certain exceptions)." 5

The intent to expand the disclosure of records in the 1973 amendments is clearly evident in the statute's express provision that the definition of public records, as amended, "shall not be construed to exempt any record which was (previously) a public record." St.1973, c. 1050, § 6.

In light of these amendments to the Public Records Act favoring disclosure, we are not persuaded by the policemen's argument that municipal payroll records are not public records. They contend that the repeal in 1973 of G.L. c. 66, § 17B (h ), which had specifically designated wage and salary records as public records, demonstrates a legislative intent to limit the scope of the statutory definition of "public record." An examination of the legislative history of the Public Records Act reveals the error in the policemen's interpretation of this statute. Section 17B created public access to certain records which did not meet the legal requirement test for public records. Town Crier, Inc. v. Chief of Police of Weston, supra, 361 Mass. at 688-689, 282 N.E.2d 379. However, the expansive definition of public records in the 1973 amendment to G.L. c. 4, § 7, eliminated the legal requirement test and added the example of "financial statements" to the various classes of public records. Thus, the need for § 17B (h ) to liberalize a restrictive public records definition no longer remained.

The policemen further argue that to treat these records as public records would cause great inconvenience and expense to the city. Putting aside the question whether these parties have standing to raise this issue, we reject this argument. Not only has the treasurer already prepared the municipal payroll records in the desired format, but the plaintiff under G.L. c. 66, § 10(a ), is required to pay the actual expense of the search for the records sought, and the judge so ordered. See Lord v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, supra, 347 Mass. at 612, 199 N.E.2d 316; Direct-Mail Serv., Inc. v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, 296 Mass. 353, 357, 5 N.E.2d 545 (1937).

2. Right of privacy issue. Within this statutory scheme which favors disclosure, nine limited exemptions shield certain records, which would otherwise be public, from the light of public scrutiny. See G.L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (a )-(i ). In order to qualify the records for exemption, however, the custodian of these records must overcome the statutory presumption that the records sought are public. 6 G.L. c. 66, § 10(c ). The policemen contend that their payroll records fall within subsection (c ) of c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth, which exempts, inter alia, "data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an invasion of personal privacy." 7

We agree with the judge's ruling that there was no showing that disclosure of payroll records would constitute an invasion of personal privacy. 8 While we appreciate an employee's desire not to have his or her income publicized, the plaintiff is not seeking disclosure of facts involving " 'intimate details' of a 'highly personal' nature." Getman v. NLRB, 146 U.S.App.D.C. 209, 214, 450 F.2d 670, 675 (1971). Cf. Commonwealth v. Wiseman, 356 Mass. 251, 258, 249 N.E.2d 610 (1969), cert. denied, 398 U.S. 960, 90 S.Ct. 2165, 26 L.Ed.2d 546 (1970); Frick v. Boyd, 350 Mass. 259, 264, 214 N.E.2d 460 (1966). The names and salaries of municipal employees, including disbursements to policemen for off-duty work details, are not the kind of private facts that the Legislature intended to exempt from mandatory disclosure. See, generally, W. Prosser, Torts § 117 (4th ed. 1971). Municipal employees have long been subject to restrictions and regulations not affecting private employees. See, e. g., Boston Police Patrolmen's Ass'n v. Boston, 367 Mass. 368, 326 N.E.2d 314 (1975) (limitations on political activities; Milton v. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 365 Mass. 368, 312 N.E.2d 188 (1974) (residency requirements); G.L. c. 31 (civil service regulations). Courts in other jurisdictions, also finding no invasion of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
53 cases
  • Opinion of the Justices to the Senate
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • April 27, 1978
    ...base pay, overtime pay, miscellaneous payments, and gross pay of every municipal employee. Hastings & Sons Publishing Co. v. City Treasurer of Lynn,---Mass.---,-------,----, 375 N.E.2d 299 (1978). The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has decided that a Boston policeman's right to priv......
  • Reinstein v. Police Com'r of Boston
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1979
    ...Mass. ---, --- - --- A, 385 N.E.2d 505 (1979); Hastings & Sons Publishing Co. v. City Treasurer of Lynn, --- Mass. ---, --- B, 375 N.E.2d 299 (1978); Getman v. NLRB, 146 U.S.App.D.C. 209, 213, 450 F.2d 670, 674 (1971). Cf. Attorney Gen. v. School Comm. of Northampton,--- Mass. ---, --- & n.......
  • Bos. Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Dep't of Pub. Health
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ...a public record if stored in a repository that is subject to a public records request. Cf. Hastings & Sons Publ. Co. v. City Treas. of Lynn, 374 Mass. 812, 820 n.10, 375 N.E.2d 299 (1978) (where tax returns are confidential by statute and "information contained in [requested] payroll record......
  • General Chemical Corp. v. Department of Environmental Quality Engineering
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • April 1, 1985
    ...§ 10(b ), (c ). See Bougas v. Chief of Police of Lexington, 371 Mass. 59, 354 N.E.2d 872 (1976); Hastings & Sons Publishing Co. v. City Treasurer of Lynn, 374 Mass. 812, 375 N.E.2d 299 (1978). It is not unprecedented that a person whose public records request is denied may obtain de novo ju......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT