Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of a superior court judge declaring that booking photographs of police officers arrested for alleged crimes and police incident reports involving public officials were not exempt from disclosure under the public records law, holding that the superior court did not err.Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC (Globe) made public records requests to the State police seeking booking photographs and police incident reports related to the arrests of law enforcement officers. The State police refused to comply with the requests, stating that the records were "criminal offender record information" (CORI) and were therefore not "public records" as defined in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7. The Globe also made a public records request to the Boston police department for the names of officers charged with driving under the influence and the related booking photographs and incident reports. The Boston police withheld the records on the same grounds used by the State police. The Globe brought suit. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Globe. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that requested booking photographs and incident reports were not absolutely exempt from disclosure as public records under exemption (a) or exemption (c) of the CORI Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 167-178B. View "Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Department of Criminal Justice Information Services" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part the superior court's grant of summary judgment for the Attorney General and entering a judgment declaring that Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC's (Globe) request for data tables containing certain information for each criminal case tracked by the Commonwealth's eleven district attorneys sought public records that must be disclosed, holding that the district attorneys must disclose to the Globe twenty-two of the twenty-three categories of information requested, excising from the disclosure the docket number for each case requested.Specifically, the Court held (1) the data sought by the Globe would be "specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure" under the Criminal Offender Record Information Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 167-178B if the individuals whose cases were tracked by the data could be directly or indirectly identified; (2) if the docket number for each case were redacted from the remaining categories of information, those individuals could not be directly or indirectly identified from this data; and (3) the request in this case, which required the traction of categories of information from an existing database, does not impose a burden on public record holders that exceed what is required under the public records law. View "Attorney General v. District Attorney for Plymouth District" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court held that the newspaper in this defamation case was not liable for republishing public police logs and requests for assistance received from a police department because the fair report privilege shielded the newspaper's editor from liability.The University of Massachusetts Boston police department received a report that an unknown man was engaging in suspicious activity near campus, and the police included an account of this report in their blotter, a daily public policy log. The news editor of the school newspaper republished the blotter entry, a version of the report, and a photograph of Plaintiff. Plaintiff was subsequently identified as the unknown man. Plaintiff bright this action against university employees and the editor, alleging that they spread false reports about him. The trial judge granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the report and photograph fell under the fair report privilege. View "Butcher v. University of Massachusetts" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court denied the request sought by Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC (the Globe) for declaratory relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that records of show cause hearings where a clerk-magistrate in the District Court or the Boston Municipal Court makes a finding of probable cause but declines to exercise his or her discretion to issue a criminal complaint are not presumptively public.The Globe claimed in this action that the public has a common-law and constitutional right to access the show cause hearing records. The Supreme Judicial Court denied the Globe's request for declaratory relief, holding (1) the records are not presumptively public under the common law, the First Amendment, or article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, as amended by article 77 of the Amendments to the Constitution; (2) any member of the public may request the records of a particular show cause hearing, and a clerk-magistrate or a judge shall grant the request where the interests of justice so require; and (3) this Court now exercises its superintendence authority to require that all show cause hearings be electronically recorded. View "Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order of the superior court denying Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC's (Globe) motion for summary judgment in this public records case, holding that the trial judge erred in concluding that the Department of Public Health (DPH) could withhold requested electronic indices of publicly available birth and marriage data pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 4, 7, twenty-sixth (c) (exemption (c)) but not pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7, twenty-sixth (a) (exemption (a)).The Globe sought the requested records from DPH and asked the trial judge to declare that the indices constituted public records. DPH argued that it could withhold the indices pursuant to exemption (a) or exemption (c). The judge denied the Globe's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the indices could be withheld pursuant to exemption (c). The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case for further proceedings on both exemptions, holding (1) the Globe's request requires an approach to exemption (a) that takes into account future requests for the indices; and (2) the application of exemption (c) involves a privacy issue that has yet to be addressed in the public records context. View "Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Department of Public Health" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court held that Phone Recovery Services, LLC (PRS), as a corporation, did not have standing to bring this qui tam action on behalf of the Commonwealth against Defendants, Verizon of New England, Inc. and other communication services providers, under the Massachusetts False Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, 5A-50.In its complaint, PRS claimed that Defendants failed to collect from their customers and remit to the Commonwealth the statutorily required surcharge for 911 emergency telephone service and knowingly provided false information to the Commonwealth to avoid certain financial obligations. The superior court allowed Defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the 911 surcharge was not subject to the Act. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the matter for a judgment dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that PRS had no standing to bring this action because it was not an “individual” for purposes of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, 5A and thus did not qualify as a relator under the Act. View "Phone Recovery Services, LLC v. Verizon of New England, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Stored Communications Act (SCA) does not prohibit Yahoo from voluntarily disclosing the contents of a decedent’s e-mail account to the personal representatives of the decedent’s estate. Rather, the SCA permits Yahoo to divulge the contents of the e-mail account where the personal representatives lawfully consent to disclosure on the decedent’s behalf.The decedent in this case died intestate. The personal representatives of the decedent’s estate sought access to the contents of a Yahoo!, Inc. e-mail account that the decedent left behind. Yahoo declined to provide access to the account. The personal representatives commenced an action challenging Yahoo’s refusal. A judge of the probate and family court granted summary judgment for Yahoo. The Supreme Judicial Court set aside the judgment, holding that summary judgment for Yahoo should not have been allowed (1) on the basis that the requested disclosure was prohibited by the SCA, and (2) on the basis of the terms of a service agreement where material issues of fact pertinent to the enforceability of the contract remained in dispute. View "Ajemian v. Yahoo!, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Petitioner's son was charged with assault and battery on a person over 60 years of age and with resisting arrest. The petitioner is the alleged victim. The son unsuccessfully moved to suppress a recording made by a third party, allegedly in violation of the wiretapping statute, G.L. c. 272, 99. The recording includes statements made by the defendant and the petitioner. The motion was denied. Petitioner sought relief under G.L. c. 211, 3, on the ground that the introduction of the recording into evidence in the defendant's trial would violate her privacy rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed. Nothing in G.L. c. 211, 3, or rule 2:21 grants a nonparty to a criminal case standing to obtain review of an interlocutory order. The Legislature has expressly provided a civil remedy, including compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney's fees, for any aggrieved person whose oral or wire communications are unlawfully intercepted, disclosed, or used, or whose privacy is violated by means of an unauthorized interception. G.L. c. 272, 99 Q. The petitioner does not address this remedy or explain why it would not be adequate to vindicate her privacy interests. View "In re Wadja" on Justia Law

by
The court considered three petitions for relief under G.L.c. 211, section 3, that related to the OpenCourt pilot project, which broadcasts live by "streaming" over the Internet video and audio recordings of certain proceedings taking place in the Quincy District Court. Each petition challenged one or more orders of a judge in the Quincy District Court concerning the broadcasts and online posting of particular proceedings in two different criminal cases. The court concluded that any order restricting OpenCourt's ability to publish -- by "streaming live" over the Internet, publicly archiving on the Web site or otherwise -- existing audio and video recordings of court room proceedings represented a form of prior restraint on the freedoms of the press and speech protected by the First Amendment and art. 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, as amended by art. 77 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. Such an order could be upheld only if it was the least restrictive, reasonable measure necessary to protect a compelling governmental interest. In the Barnes case, the court vacated the order of the district court judge requiring the redaction of the minor alleged victim. In the Diorio case, the court concluded that Diorio had not met the heavy burden of justifying an order of prior restraint with respect to the specific proceedings at issue in his petition for relief. The court requested the Supreme Judicial Court's judiciary-media committee submit a set of guidelines of the operation of the OpenCourt project. View "Commonwealth v. Barnes" on Justia Law