ROCKPORT — The Back Beach Neighbors Committee has filed another case against the town, this time in Massachusetts Superior Court.
The group of Back Beach neighbors are also pursuing a case against the town in U.S. District Court. That case claims town officials are violating the committee's civil rights by allowing SCUBA hobbyists and instructors at Back Beach to "destroy the committee members' enjoyment of their property, annihilate their privacy, and threaten the public safety and order."
The Superior Court lawsuit centers on a dispute over a public records request.
"We're going to have two separate, parallel cases," said Michael Walsh, the attorney representing the Back Beach Neighbors Committee. "One in state and one in federal."
In August 2020, the committee sought to receive "spreadsheet(s) which document(s) the commercial use permits for Rockport beaches ... for year 2020." Such permits are granted through the Rockport Department of Public Works . According to neighbors' complaint, Assistant DPW Director Gary LeBlanc sent a letter to the committee denying its request due to the pending federal case.
According to state bylaws, "the supervisor may deny an appeal for, among other reasons if, in the opinion of the supervisor ...the public records in question are the subjects of disputes in active litigation, administrative hearings or mediation."
This, however, was not the only reason it was denied the documents, according to the Back Beach Neighbors Committee.
"Secondly, the town argued that it is not required to create records for the requesting committee member," the group's complaint reads. "Thirdly, the town claimed that it could find no responsive records."
This response confused Walsh.
"We requested the records last year and got them," he told the Times. "We sought an Excel spreadsheet with all the special permits issued by the town. It was specifically the divers we wore looking for. (The most recent request) was made in the exact same way. They first argued the request was too vague, then we asked for wrong type of record. The fact they don't have it now is simply not credible."
The committee appealed the decision to the state Public Records Division in September. In her decision, Supervisor of Records Rebecca Murray declined to "opine on this matter at this time" due to the ongoing federal case.
"Attorney Walsh seeks the records for a court process, he may have a unique right of access to the records through statutory, regulatory, judicial or other applicable means," it continues. "As such, Attorney Walsh may wish to consider another means of seeking to obtain any existing responsive records."
Thus, Walsh filed this most recent complaint with the state. As of Friday, the town had not been formally served.
As for the federal case, Walsh says there's not been much development.
"The town has filed motion to dismiss the case that hasn't been ruled on," he said. "We filed a request to depose (Public Works office manager) Lori Greenslade. The town argued it's too early in the litigation to do so."
The town declined to comment on this story through Town Counsel Deborah Ecker of KP Law.
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or firstname.lastname@example.org.