Filing a motion to vacate a default judgment in United States District Court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b)(1) (“Rule 60”) on the grounds of mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect is the topic of this blog post.
Rule 60 states in pertinent part that “(b) Grounds for Relief from a Final Judgment, Order, or Proceeding. On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” And Rule 60 also states that “(c) Timing and Effect of the Motion. (1) Timing. A motion under Rule 60(b) must be made within a reasonable time—and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding.”
As with a motion to vacate a default judgment in California, it should be noted that Rule 60 does state that the motion must be made within a reasonable time. Anyone who finds out that a default judgment has been entered against them needs to act quickly if they want to increase the chances of having their motion granted as the law is settled in the Ninth Circuit and elsewhere that a district court has great discretion in deciding whether to grant a motion under Rule 60. It is subject to review only for abuse of discretion. They should also be sure to emphasize their defenses against the judgment as showing a meritorious defense is necessary
A district court’s denial of a motion to set aside either default under Rule 55(c) or default judgment under Rule 60(b)(1), is reviewed for abuse of discretion. United States v. Signed Personal Check No. 730 of Yubran S. Mesle, 615 F.3d 1085, 1091 (9th Cir. 2010) (“Mesle”); TCI Group Life Ins. Plan v. Knoebber, 244 F.3d 691, 695 (9th Cir. 2001) (“TCI”).
The first step of our abuse of discretion test is to determine de novo whether the trial court identified the correct legal rule to apply to the relief requested. The second step . . . is to determine whether the trial court’s application of the correct legal standard was (1) “illogical”, (2) “implausible,” or (3) without “support in inferences that may be drawn from the facts in the record. United States v. Hinkson, 585 F.3d 1247, 1261 (9th Cir. 2009) (en banc).
Where a defendant seeks relief under Rule 60(b)(1) based upon “excusable neglect,” the court applies the same three factors governing the inquiry into “good cause” under Rule 55(c). Mesle, 615 F.3d at 1091.
Those factors are: (1) whether the plaintiff will be prejudiced, (2) whether the defendant has a meritorious defense, and (3) whether culpable conduct of the defendant led to the default. Falk v. Allen, 739 F.2d 461, 463 (9th Cir. 1984).
Again the motion can be denied if it is shown that the moving defendant was culpable, and that conduct led to the default. Although the law is settled that Rule 60 is to be liberally construed so that cases can be tried on the merits.
In discussing Rule 60 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal has stated that this rule, like all the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “is to be liberally construed to effectuate the general purpose of seeing that cases are tried on the merits.” Rodgers v. Watt, 722 F.2d 456, 459 (9th Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted.)
See also Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1, “The Federal Rules should be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”
“Rule 60(b) is ‘remedial in nature and . . . must be liberally applied.’ ” TCI Group Life Ins. v. Knoebber, 244 F.3d 691, 696 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotations omitted.)
To determine whether a party’s failure to meet a deadline constitutes “excusable neglect,” courts must apply a four factor equitable test, examining: (1) the danger of prejudice to the opposing party; (2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on the proceedings; (3) the reason for the delay; and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith. Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd. P’ship, 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993); Briones v. Riviera Hotel & Casino, 116 F.3d 379, 381 (9th Cir. 1997) (adopting this test for consideration of Rule 60(b) motions).
The United States Supreme Court has stated that the determination of what conduct constitutes “excusable neglect” under Rule 60(b)(1) and similar rules “is at bottom an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party’s omission.” Pioneer Inv. Svcs. Co. v. Brunswick Assoc. Ltd., 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993).
While a Rule 60 motion has a longer deadline than a California motion to vacate a default judgment it does differ in that showing a meritorious defense is required.
Attorneys or parties in civil litigation in United States District Court who wish to view a sample motion to vacate a default judgment under Rule 60(b)(1) sold by the author can see below.
The author of this blog post, Stan Burman, is a freelance paralegal who has worked in California and Federal litigation since 1995.
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