SJC: RAHIMAH RAHIM v. DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR SUFFOLK DISTRICT

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KeywordsPublic Records. District Attorney. Statute, Construction. Words, “Receive”

As the year ends tonight, the SJC on December 31, 2020 issued an important public records case, Rahim v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District.  The issue was over whether documents the DA received from the FBI as part of an investigation of a shooting were subject to the public records law or exempt as they were not “made or received” and/or exempt under the investigatory exemption.  Among other points, the SJC ruled that some of the records in dispute were exempt under the investigatory exemption, and others needed further analysis bty the trial court.  The SJC also ruled that “received” does not mean thus now owned.  Relatedly, the SJC acknowledged, as many municipal attorneys have argued, “[t]here remains understandable confusion concerning the burden of proof that a record custodian bears when claiming an exemption from the public records law.”  Herr is an excerpt from the Court’s decision:

[Excerpt] – “During the course of investigating a fatal shooting by Federal and State law enforcement officials, the office of the district attorney for the Suffolk district (district attorney) requested and received assorted materials related to the incident from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  We now decide whether these materials qualify as public records under G. L. c. 66, § 10 (a), of the Massachusetts public records law (public records law) and, if so, whether they are exempt from disclosure under either G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (a) (exemption [a]), or G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth (f) (exemption [f]). . . . We now hold that the FBI materials qualify as “public records” under the public records law; that the materials do not qualify for exemption (a); and that some of the materials qualify for exemption (f), but the rest must be remanded to determine whether exemption (f) applies.”

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