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Appeals Court of Massachusetts.



Decided: February 24, 2021

By the Court (Vuono, Rubin & Sullivan, JJ.1)


The pro se plaintiff appeals from the denial of his motion to impound materials filed in connection with his suit alleging disability discrimination. We vacate the denial of the motion.

Background. The plaintiff, Michael Camacho, applied for a position as a State environmental police officer, but was bypassed. He appealed the bypass to the Civil Service Commission (commission), which found that the ground offered by the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) was unsupported. Hence, the commission ruled in Camacho's favor on January 10, 2015, and ordered that he be placed at the top of the next eligibility list.

Camacho then brought a pro se action in Superior Court against the MEP. The third amended complaint, which is the operative complaint in the case, set forth a single count alleging that the MEP had discriminated against him based on disability by requiring him to disclose medical conditions before it had made a conditional offer of employment. The MEP sought discovery of Camacho's medical records, which Camacho refused to provide. After multiple discovery motions, a Superior Court judge dismissed the case as a discovery sanction pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 37 (b) (2), as amended, 390 Mass. 1208 (1984), and denied Camacho's motion for reconsideration.

Camacho attempted to lodge a timely notice of appeal (first appeal) by e-mailing a copy of it, but his notice of appeal was not filed and docketed until four days beyond the applicable sixty-day appeal period. See Mass. R. A. P. 4 (a), as amended, 464 Mass. 1601 (2013). A panel of this court ultimately dismissed his first appeal as untimely, and alternatively concluded that the judge's imposition of discovery sanctions was not an abuse of discretion.

While his first appeal was pending, Camacho filed a motion in this court that was treated as a motion to impound. The single justice denied the motion without prejudice to filing a motion to impound in the Superior Court (single justice order).

Camacho then moved in Superior Court to impound “information” that “directly or indirectly states [his] disability status and specific disabilities.” The first motion judge denied the motion for failing to comply with the Uniform Rules on Impoundment Procedure (Trial Court Rule VIII) (2015). Camacho moved for reconsideration, which was denied by the same judge on July 11, 2019,

“for essentially the same reasons, namely the plaintiff's failure to comply with the Uniform Rules of Impoundment Procedure (Trial Court Rule VIII). In particular, the Court directs plaintiff's attention to Rule 2 of Rule VIII. Despite the fact that plaintiff will be filing the motion to impound certain items previously filed with the court, the Court is likely to allow the motion if properly filed․ [T]he Court will give him one more opportunity to comply with Trial Court Rule VIII, Rule 2, and has attached a copy for plaintiff's convenience․”

Camacho then unsuccessfully moved at least twice in this court for impoundment. Only then did Camacho file a renewed motion for impoundment in Superior Court seeking to “indefinitely impound any confidential information contained in this case” and to impound the motion.2 On November 26, 2019, a different motion judge (second judge) denied the renewed motion without explanation. This appeal followed.

Discussion. “[T]he party urging impoundment ․ bears the burden of ‘demonstrating the existence of good cause’ ” (citation omitted). New England Internet Café, LLC v. Clerk of the Superior Court for Criminal Business in Suffolk County, 462 Mass. 76, 83 (2012). “[I]mpoundment will not be routinely granted.” H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc. v. Frey, 400 Mass. 326, 332 (1987). “[I]mpoundment is always the exception to the rule.” Republican Co. v. Appeals Court, 442 Mass. 218, 223 (2004).

The MEP has urged affirmance on various procedural grounds. We reject the MEP's narrow construction of the single justice order, and its accompanying argument that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction over the renewed motion. The purpose of the single justice order was to permit a judge of the Superior Court to rule on a motion to impound. Nothing in the subsequent history of the first appeal in this court limited that order. In fact, our docket shows that the first appeal was stayed repeatedly in order to give Camacho opportunity to resolve his motions in the Superior Court.

We likewise reject the contention that the subsequent denial of the motions to impound by the single justices of this court is dispositive of the motion before the second judge. The single justices acted based upon the record before them.3 A Superior Court judge, with the benefit of the record in that court, would be permitted in the exercise of his or her discretion to rule accordingly.

With respect to the merits, we review the denial of a renewed motion and the denial of a motion for impoundment for abuse of discretion. See Commonwealth v. Chism, 476 Mass. 171, 182 (2017) (motion to impound); Prestige Imports, Inc. v. South Weymouth Sav. Bank, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 773, 776 (2009) (renewed motion). We find an abuse of discretion only where the judge “made a clear error of judgment in weighing the factors relevant to the decision, such that the decision falls outside the range of reasonable alternatives” (quotation and citation omitted). L.L. v. Commonwealth, 470 Mass. 169, 185 n.27 (2014).

From the limited record before us, it appears that Camacho sought impoundment of two types of information -- his designation on the civil service list as a disabled veteran, and various pleadings that describe his disability and medical conditions. We address each in turn.

The inclusion of the names of disabled veterans on the civil service list is a function of the statute that requires it. See G. L. c. 31, § 25.4 We see no conflict between this statute and G. L. c. 151B; neither statute negates the other. The civil service laws are intended to curb patronage and favoritism, and give preference in hiring to disabled veterans. The statute provides a measure of transparency and accountability by making the list publicly available. Chapter 151B authorizes a cause of action for disability discrimination and seeks to prevent such discrimination by requiring reasonable accommodation to otherwise qualified applicants and employees. The civil service and antidiscrimination laws can and should be read in harmony, cf. School Comm. of Marshfield v. Marshfield Educ. Ass'n, 84 Mass. App. Ct. 743, 754 (2014), each serving the shared purpose of according equal employment opportunities to persons with disabilities.

Camacho also asserts that because his complaints (and perhaps other pleadings) reveal the nature of his disability, they should be impounded. Judicial records “are presumptively public documents.” New England Internet Café, LLC, 462 Mass. at 83. “This presumption of publicity of judicial records, however, is not absolute, and may be restricted on a showing of good cause” (quotation omitted). Id. “To determine whether good cause is shown, a judge must balance the rights of the parties based on the particular facts of each case,” and “take into account all relevant factors, ‘including, but not limited to, the nature of the parties and the controversy, the type of information and the privacy interests involved, the extent of community interest, and the reason for the request.’ ” Boston Herald, Inc. v. Sharpe, 432 Mass. 593, 604 & n.22 (2000), quoting Rule 7 of the Uniform Rules on Impoundment Procedure.

Camacho maintains that he has a right to privacy regarding his medical conditions. See G. L. c. 214, § 1B. The case is now dismissed, and given the nature of the privacy interest involved and the fact that the litigation has terminated, it is unclear on what basis the second judge denied the renewed motion to impound. To the extent that the MEP argued that the second judge was obligated to deny the renewed motion because this court had done so, that argument was in error for the reasons previously given.5 Under these circumstances, and in the absence of any explanation from the second judge, we cannot say that the second judge actually exercised his discretion in denying the renewed motion. For this limited reason, the matter must be remanded for further proceedings.

Order dated November 26, 2019, denying motion to impound vacated.


2.   Because Camacho was invited by the first motion judge to file his renewed motion, we do not share the MEP's view of the renewed motion as a motion to reconsider. See Mass. R. Civ. P. 60 (b), 365 Mass. 828 (1974). Rather, the renewed motion is just that: a renewed motion, which is an established and accepted motion in our courts. See, e.g., Prestige Imports, Inc. v. South Weymouth Sav. Bank, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 773, 776 (2009); Cardone v. Boston Regional Med. Ctr., Inc., 60 Mass. App. Ct. 179, 191 (2003).

3.   Two single justices directed Camacho to file impounded material in a separate appendix. A third stated that Camacho had failed to establish good cause based on the motion before him.

4.   Nor is G. L. c. 66A, § 1, applicable to documents otherwise classified as public records. Likewise, the posting of a civil service list is not affected by the prohibition against, for example, discrimination by employers in advertising for job openings. See G. L. c. 151B, § 4 (3).

5.   We note that after the second judge made his ruling on Camacho's renewed motion to impound, the panel in the first appeal, “in an abundance of caution,” entered an order impounding any papers filed in this court that “may include or reference any of [Camacho's] underlying medical information.”

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Docket No: 20-P-391

Decided: February 24, 2021

Court: Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

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