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Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

Nicholos TRAYLOR v. CITY OF SPRINGFIELD & another.1


Decided: April 27, 2021

By the Court (Wolohojian, Englander & Hand, JJ.2)


The plaintiff appeals from the judgment of dismissal of his amended complaint against the city of Springfield (city) and the Springfield Police Department (department). On the limited record before us, we affirm.

Background. The factual and procedural background are not disputed. In 2017, while the plaintiff was incarcerated, he claimed to have learned that a family member had stolen a car and other valuable items belonging to him.3 On April 25, 2018, the plaintiff made a written request to the department for copies of what he characterized as “public records” -- “[a] complaint made by me ․ on or about the date of 11-28-17, and again on or about 2-7-18,” as well as “a master sheet, master index, rap sheet or other tracking information used by your department for myself ․ and [another named individual]” (SPR18-753). On May 14, 2018, the plaintiff followed up by letter to the supervisor of records (the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth) seeking redress, noting the ten-day response deadline included in G. L. c. 66, § 10 (a), for public records requests. The city responded to the plaintiff's complaint SPR18-753 by letter on May 30, 2018, stating that it had no records responsive to the plaintiff's request.

On October 24, 2018, the plaintiff made a new request to the department under G. L. c. 66, § 10 (a), this time seeking a “BLANK INCIDENT REPORT ([f]or filing a [c]omplaint regarding [theft] of personal property) [and] PROCEDURE FOR FILING A COMPLAINT BY A CITIZEN,” including policies that could assist incarcerated individuals in filing a private complaint (SPR18-1693). Again, after the city failed to respond within ten days to this request, the plaintiff contacted the supervisor of records. The city ultimately responded that it had no records responsive to the plaintiff's request.4

On March 11, 2019, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court seeking judicial review of what he characterized as the department's denial of his requests for public records.5

On July 22, 2019, with leave of court, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint.6 The city and the department moved to dismiss the amended complaint under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), and, after a hearing, the judge allowed the motion. This appeal followed.

Discussion. We review de novo a judge's ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Dunn v. Genzyme Corp., 486 Mass. 713, 717 (2021). See also Mass. R. Civ. P. 12 (b) (6). Here, the city and the department moved to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint; in order to resolve the plaintiff's appeal, we would be required to “[a]ccept[ ] the facts asserted in the [amended] complaint as true and draw[ ] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor,” and then “determine ‘whether the factual allegations in the complaint [were] sufficient, as a matter of law, to state a recognized cause of action or claim, and whether such allegations plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.’ ” Dunn, supra, quoting Dartmouth v. Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Tech. High Sch. Dist., 461 Mass. 366, 374 (2012).

Our ability to conduct the required review is frustrated here, however, by the plaintiff's failure to include a copy of the amended complaint in the record.7 See Commonwealth v. Woody, 429 Mass. 95, 97 (1999) (reiterating “that it is the appellant's responsibility to ensure that the record is adequate for appellate review”); Buckmore v. Czelusniak Funeral Home, Inc., 427 Mass. 1014, 1014 (1998), quoting Allen v. Christian, 408 Mass. 1007, 1008 (1990) (“The burden of presenting [a] court with a record which shows the alleged error [either by the trial court or] by the single justice is on ․ the appealing [party]”); Cameron v. Carelli, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 81, 85–86 (1995) (appellant claiming legal error bears burden of providing record support for own argument); Mass. R. A. P. 18 (a), as appearing in 481 Mass. 1637 (2019). In the absence of an adequate record on appeal, we decline to disturb the judgment.8

Judgment affirmed.


3.   At all times relevant to this appeal, the plaintiff has been incarcerated and has represented himself.

4.   The city did not direct the plaintiff, as it might have done, to request an application for complaint form from the District Court. See standard 3:03 of the District Court Standards of Judicial Practice: The Complaint Procedure (amended Oct. 1, 2008). See also G. L. c. 66, § 10 (b) (iii) (where requested public records are not in agency's possession, agency's response shall “identify the agency ․ that may be in possession” of such records).

5.   Although it is not entirely clear from the complaint whether it was intended as a vehicle for review of the plaintiff's first request to the department, SPR18-753; his second request, SPR18-1693; or both, we assume for the purposes of argument that the original complaint sought review of any denial of either of these requests.

6.   Although, as we discuss, infra, the record does not include a copy of the amended complaint, we glean from the judge's memorandum of decision on the motion to dismiss that the amended complaint included additional statutory and constitutional claims, as well as claims related to the department's failure to investigate the plaintiff's allegations about his stolen property.

7.   Nor does the record include a copy of the city's motion papers or a transcript of the motion hearing. “The fact that the appellant is a pro se litigant does not excuse him from complying with the basic requirements of appellate procedure.” Buckmore v. Czelusniak Funeral Home, Inc., 427 Mass. 1014, 1014 (1998).

8.   The judge's memorandum of decision, while detailed, indicates that the amended complaint required some interpretation before the judge was able to rule on the motion to dismiss. For example, the judge “[a]ssum[ed], without deciding, that [the plaintiff's] allegations suggest[ed] negligence on the part of the [d]epartment and the [c]ity,” and that “[i]t [was] unclear from the amended complaint whether [the plaintiff was] claiming that his requests were unlawfully denied and the reasons for such a claim.” These observations underscore our conclusion that without the amended complaint, we are unable to assess the merits of the plaintiff's appeal.

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