Urban Transport, Inc. v. Mayor of Boston

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation373 Mass. 693,369 N.E.2d 1135
PartiesURBAN TRANSPORT, INC. v. MAYOR OF BOSTON. Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk
Decision Date17 November 1977

Frederick T. Golder, Boston, for plaintiff.

Kevin F. Moloney, First Asst. Corp. Counsel, Boston (Herbert P. Gleason, Corp. Counsel, Boston, with him), for defendant.


LIACOS, Justice.

The plaintiff bus company, Urban Transport, Inc. (Urban), brought this action in the nature of mandamus in the county court seeking an order to compel the mayor and other Boston officials to approve and execute a three-year school bus transportation contract, and also seeking damages. A special master and commissioner heard the action. The master recommended that the mayor be ordered to approve the contract for the three-year period and that damages be awarded to Urban in the sum of $64,906.40. The single justice confirmed the master's subsidiary findings of fact, but entered judgment for the defendant on the ground that no three-year contract existed between the parties. 1 From that judgment Urban has appealed to this court.

The master found the following facts: 2 In October of 1974, the business manager of the school department of transportation and safety, pursuant to St.1909, c. 486, § 30, as amended, published an invitation for bids for the furnishing of transportation to students in the vocational education, occupational resource center, and bilingual programs. Although Urban submitted its bid proposal a few minutes past the twelve o'clock deadline, the school committee voted to award the three-year contract to Urban, the lowest bidder. Prior to acting on the contract, the mayor solicited the opinion of the Finance Commission of Boston (commission) on the advisability of authorizing the execution of this contract with Urban. 3 The commission, relying on many inaccurate findings and conclusions, recommended against entering into a contract with Urban. The report of the commission alleged various irregularities and violations of law in regard to Urban's bid and the school committee vote. The commission recommended further investigation by law enforcement authorities. The district attorney for Suffolk County commenced such a criminal investigation. The mayor refused to approve the contract because of this investigation. Urban commenced bus transportation services on October 29, 1974, but the mayor continued to refuse to approve the contract. Thus, this suit was initiated on April 9, 1975.

The second master 4 also found that the mayor's refusal to grant his approval to the three-year contract was "unreasonable." Although Urban contended before the master that the mayor's approval pursuant to the interlocutory order of the single justice constituted approval for a three-year contract, the master stated that the approval was for a one-year contract. The master recommended that the school committee be ordered to assign Urban bus routes for the school year 1976-1977 and that damages should be awarded to Urban based on lost profits for the school year 1975-1976. 5

We affirm the judgment for the defendant entered by the single justice.

The pertinent statute here, "An Act concerning certain contracts entered into on behalf of the city of Boston and the county of Suffolk," St.1890, c. 418, § 6, as amended through St.1955, c. 60, § 1, provides: "All contracts made by any department of the city of Boston . . . shall, when the amount involved is two thousand dollars or more, . . . be in writing; and no such contract shall be deemed to have been made or executed until the approval of the mayor of said city has been affixed thereto in writing." 6

A contract with the city is not formed until the necessary statutory requirements are fulfilled. 7 Central Tow Co. v. Boston, --- Mass. ---, --- a, 357 N.E.2d 310 (1976). As we stated in Richard D. Kimball Co. v. Medford, 340 Mass. 727, 729, 166 N.E.2d 708, 710 (1960): "It is familiar law that one dealing with a city or town cannot recover if statutory requirements such as are contained in the defendant's charter have not been observed." See, e. g., Adalian Bros. v. Boston, 323 Mass. 629, 632, 84 N.E.2d 35 (1949); Cook v. Overseers of the Pub. Welfare in Boston, 303 Mass. 544, 547, 22 N.E.2d 189 (1939); Fluet v. McCabe 299 Mass. 173, 178, 12 N.E.2d 89 (1938); Continental Constr. Co. v. Lawrence, 297 Mass. 513, 516, 9 N.E.2d 550 (1937); Fiske v. Worcester, 219 Mass. 428, 430, 106 N.E. 1025 (1914); Wheaton Bldg. & Lumber Co. v. Boston, 204 Mass. 218, 226, 90 N.E. 598 (1910).

Urban contends that the mayor approved the contract for the entire three-year period. Those who seek to contract with a municipality bear the burden of proving compliance with the statutory requirements in the city charter. Richard D. Kimball Co. v. Medford, supra at 729, 166 N.E.2d 708. DosSantos v. Peabody, 327 Mass. 519, 520-521, 99 N.E.2d 852 (1951). Continental Constr. Co. v. Lawrence, supra at 516, 9 N.E.2d 550. The plaintiff here has not sustained its burden. The master found that the mayor's approval was limited to a one-year contract. That the master used the words "I believe" rather than the phrase "I find" does not make the finding a matter of conjecture, as Urban argues, especially since other portions of the report supported this finding. Furthermore, with the exception of one paragraph dealing with damages, Urban moved to confirm the complete report. McCray v. Weinberg, --- Mass.App. ---, --- b, 340 N.E.2d 518 (1976).

Urban argues in the alternative that the mayor cannot unreasonably withhold his approval of a contract validly awarded by the school committee. The master found the mayor's refusal to approve the three-year contract not in bad faith but unreasonable. He based this conclusion on the facts (1) that the school committee awarded the contract to Urban, and (2) that Urban then performed satisfactorily during the 1974-1975 school year.

Nothing in St.1890, c. 418, § 6, suggests, however, that the mayor's approval is a mere ministerial act to be performed whenever the school committee votes for a contract. Nor does this provision limit the factors which the mayor may consider in deciding whether to approve or not. See Eastern Mass. St. Ry. v. Mayor of Fall River, 308 Mass. 232, 235, 31 N.E.2d 543 (1941). The purpose of such legislative enactments is to limit the power of public officials in making contracts, Dyer v. Boston, 272 Mass. 265, 274, 172 N.E.2d 235 (1930), so as to unify the control of the city's commercial transactions, see School Comm. of Gloucester v. Gloucester, 324 Mass. 209, 218, 85 N.E.2d 429 (1949), and guard against waste by departments in the government, Singarella v. Boston, 342 Mass. 385, 388, 173 N.E.2d 290 (1961). To accomplish this purpose, the mayor must be able to exercise his "practical wisdom in the administration of the affairs of the city." McLean v. Mayor of Holyoke, 216 Mass. 62, 64, 102 N.E. 929, 930 (1913). See LeRoy v. Worcester St. Ry., 287 Mass. 1, 7, 191 N.E. 39 (1934). Thus, the single justice correctly ruled that the foundation for the master's conclusion of "unreasonableness" lacked support in the law.

This action was commenced after July 1, 1974, the effective date when the writ of mandamus, along with several other writs, was abolished by our new rules of civil procedure. Mass.R.Civ.P. 81(b), 365 Mass. 841 (1974). Despite the abolition of this writ, the relief once provided under this ancient writ is still available if sought by complaint and summons. DelDuca v. Town Adm'r of Methuen, 368 Mass. 1, 2 n.2, 329 N.E.2d 748 (1975). Beaton v. Land Court, 367 Mass. 385, 386 n.3, 326 N.E.2d 302 appeal dismissed, 423 U.S. 806, 96 S.Ct. 16, 46 L.Ed.2d 27 (1975). It is well settled that the relief provided in the nature of mandamus does not lie to compel the municipal officer to exercise his or her judgment or discretion in a particular way. Harding v. Commissioner of Ins., 352 Mass. 478, 480, 225 N.E.2d 903 (1967). DeNunzio v. City Manager of Cambridge, 341 Mass. 420, 422, 169 N.E.2d 877 (1960). M. Doyle & Co. v. Commissioner of Pub. Works of Boston, 328 Mass. 269, 271, 103 N.E.2d 238 (1952). Marchesi v. Selectmen of Winchester, 312 Mass. 28, 31, 42 N.E.2d 817 (1942). McLean v Mayor of Holyoke, supra at 64, 102 N.E. 929. The mayor here exercised his judgment by refusing to give his statutory approval to the contract. Absent bad faith, fraud, arbitrariness or capriciousness, we are unwilling to substitute our judgment for the good faith judgment of the mayor. McLean v. Mayor of Holyoke, supra at 65, 102 N.E. 929. Even if the master was of opinion that the city's best interests are served by requiring the award of a contract to Urban, this subjective judgment alone is not sufficient to support an order compelling approval. Archambault v. Mayor of Lowell, 278 Mass. 327, 334, 180 N.E. 157 (1932). The ongoing criminal investigation, although essentially uncovering no wrongdoing on Urban's part, appears to be an adequate basis, devoid of whim or caprice, for the mayor's decision.

Finally, Urban contends that the school committee had the authority to execute the three-year bus transportation contract without the mayor's approval. Urban urges us to hold that, because the busing of students is necessary to comply with the racial imbalance law and Federal court desegregation orders, school bus transportation is now an integral part of the educational process. Its argument concludes that the school committee should thus have full authority to award and execute such transportation contracts. 8 This argument is wholly without merit.

Urban has made no showing that its buses in particular were needed to comply with a court order for the busing of schoolchildren. Further, we are not convinced that the desegregation rulings somehow transform the commercial nature of a bus transportation contract. In Eastern Mass. St. Ry....

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