New ‘Traps’ Example: Contracts with state or local government agencies

Thursday, March 25, 2021
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The Massachusetts Bar Association is in the process of updating its Traps for the Unwary publication, a member-exclusive reference guide last published in 2011 that looks at some of the malpractice hazards for attorneys who practice in a general, civil practice. We invite members to share any “traps” they’ve come across in their practice for possible inclusion in the next edition.

Share your trap suggestion by emailing it to Attorney James E. Harvey of O’Malley and Harvey LLP, who is again serving as editor-in-chief for the project and is working closely with liaisons from several MBA section councils.

To help you identify potential traps, the MBA will periodically publish excerpts from Traps for the Unwary in eJournal. View this week’s trap, plus previously shared examples, below.


Contracts with state or local government agencies are only enforceable if the official entering the contract has the authority to do so. “[T]hose who contract with the officers or agents of a governmental agency must, at their peril, ‘see to it that those officers or agents are acting within the scope of their authority.’” Bowers v. Board of Appeals of Marshfield, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 29 (1983).  See also Cranberry Growers Serv., Inc. v. Duxbury, 415 Mass. 354, 355-356 (1993), holding that the lease of an orchard by a town’s conservation commission was void where the statute creating the commission did not authorize it to lease land, despite the lease having been in effect for 10 years.