Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Rule 60(b)' is an attempt to codify the equitable, common law practice of reforming judgments under special circumstances. The rule, inter alia, authorizes a court to relieve a party from a default judgment for "excusable neglect." This standard, however, is not defined in the rules, and courts have struggled with its meaning. Some circuits define the term liberally and often grant requests to vacate default judgments. Others adopt a strict interpretation and consistently refuse to vacate default judgments resulting from mere carelessness or negligence. Recently, in Pioneer Investment Services Co. v. Brunswick Associates Ltd. Partnership, the Supreme Court clarified the term "excusable neglect" under one of the Bankruptcy Rules. Given the differing goals and policies of default judgments and bankruptcies, as well as the internal problems of the decision itself, however, the decision should not be extended to determinations of excusable neglect under Rule 60(b)(1).

Part II of this Note examines the history of Rule 60(b), analyzing the background and source of original Rule 60(b), as well as the subsequent amendments to the rule. In addition, Part II describes the construction and application of Rule 60(b), outlining the remedial nature of the rule and the competing policy concerns of finality of judgments versus the preference for deciding cases on the merits. Part III discusses the inconsistent interpretations of "excusable neglect" under Rule 60(b)(1) in cases concerning mere carelessness or negligence. This section explores why some circuits consistently vacate default judgments except upon a showing of culpable conduct or bad faith, while other circuits refuse to vacate default judgments occurring as a result of mere carelessness or negligence. Part IV examines both the majority approach in the Pioneer decision and the dissent's concerns, paying particular attention to internal inconsistencies in the majority opinion. Finally, Part V addresses the inapplicability of Pioneer to the determination of excusable neglect under Rule 60(b)(1). The Note concludes that courts should adopt a strict interpretation of "excusable neglect" and refuse to condone mere carelessness or negligence under Rule 60(b)(1).