United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
MID-CENTURY INSURANCE COMPANY, as Subrogee of Dwight Mills, Plaintiff,
STACEY EARL THOMPSON, Defendant.
S. Davis Chief United States District Judge
matter is before the court on a motion to set aside default
judgment pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 55(c)
and 60(b) (1), (4), and (6) filed by defendant Stacey Earl
Thompson("Defendant"). Def.'s Mot.,
ECF No. 14. For the reasons stated below, the Court
TAKES UNDER ADVISEMENT Defendant's
March 22, 2019, this Court granted an unopposed motion for
default judgment that had been filed by plaintiff Mid-Century
Insurance Company, as subrogee of Dwight Mills
("Plaintiff"). Order, ECF No. 14. In granting the
motion for default judgment, the Court found that Plaintiff
adequately alleged that Defendant negligently started a fire
with a cigarette in Dwight Mills's ("Mr.
Mills") home. Order 5. Because Plaintiff, as Mr.
Mill's property-insurer, paid Mr. Mills for the damage
caused by the fire, the Court ordered Defendant to pay
Plaintiff $176, 564.81, the amount that Plaintiff paid for
the fire damage. Order 6.
17, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to set aside default
judgment, Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 14, and a memorandum in
support, Def.'s Memo., ECF No. 15, arguing that Plaintiff
improperly served Defendant, who claims he is incompetent for
service because he suffers from dementia (or other cognitive
disorder) and poor eyesight and who, before the fire, had
signed a power of attorney in favor of his daughter, who
happens to be Mr. Mills's wife ("Mrs. Mills").
Plaintiff responded in opposition on May 31, 2019. ECF No.
16. Defendant replied on June 5, 2019. ECF No. 17. Having
been fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for review.
Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) permits a party to seek relief
"from a final judgment, order, or proceeding."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). A court's analysis of a Rule 60(b)
motion proceeds in two stages. First, a court considers
whether the movant has met three threshold
conditions:wxa moving party must show that his
motion is timely, that he has a meritorious defense to the
action, and that the opposing party would not be unfairly
prejudiced by having the judgment set aside.'"
Nat'l Credit Union Admin. Bd. v. Gray,
1 F.3d 262, 264 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Park
Corp. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 812 F.2d 894, 896 (4th
Cir. 1987)); see also Aikens v. Ingram, 652 F.3d
496, 501 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Nat'l Credit
Union, 1 F.3d at 264). Once a movant has demonstrated
the three threshold requirements, Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 60(b) lists the grounds under which a court may
grant relief from a final judgment. Nat'l Credit
Union, 1 F.3d at 266. These grounds are:
(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable
neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with
reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time
to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether
previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation,
or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) the judgment is
void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or
discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been
reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no
longer equitable; or (6) any other reason that justifies
Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) (emphasis added). The party seeking
relief under Rule 60(b) "must clearly establish the
grounds therefor to the satisfaction of the district court .
. . and such grounds must be clearly substantiated by
adequate proof." In re Burnley, 988
F.2d 1, 3 (4th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted).
Relief under Rule 60(b) is an "extraordinary
remedy" that is to be used only in "exceptional
circumstances." Compton v. Alton S.S.
Co., 608 F.2d 96, 102 (4th Cir. 1979); see also
Ebersole v. Kline-Perry, 292 F.R.D. 316, 320 (E.D. Va.
2013) (quoting Compton, 608 F.2d at 102) . To
determine whether such exceptional relief is appropriate, the
court "must engage in the delicate balancing
ofxthe sanctity of final judgments, expressed in
the doctrine of res judicata, and the incessant command of
the court's conscience that justice be done in light of
[a] 11 the facts. "' Compton, 608 F.2d at
102 (alteration in original) (quoting Bankers Mortg. Co.
v. United States, 423 F.2d 73, 77 (5th Cir. 1970),
cert, denied, 399 U.S. 927 (1970)).
Fourth Circuit has held that a motion under Rule 60(b) is
addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge and will
not be disturbed on appeal save for a showing of abuse.
See Aikens, 652 F.3d at 501. "However, where
default judgments are at issue, over the years [the Fourth
Circuit] has taken an increasingly liberal view of Rule 60(b)
. . . ." Augusta Fiberglass Coatings, Inc. v. Fodor
Contracting Corp., 843 F.2d 808, 811 (4th Cir. 1988);
see also Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller,
11 Federal Practice & Procedure § 2857 (3d
ed. 2012) (noting that" [t] he cases calling for great
liberality in granting Rule 60(b) motions, for the most part,
have involved default judgments. There is much more reason
for liberality in reopening a judgment when the merits of the
case never have been considered than there is when the
judgment comes after a full trial on the merits."). This
is so because "default judgments pit the court's
strong preference for deciding cases on the merits against
countervailing interests in finality and in preserving the
court's ability to control its docket." Heyman
v. M.L. Mktg. Co., 116 F.3d 91, 94 (4th Cir. 1997)
(citing Augusta, 843 F.2d at 811) . Nonetheless, in
considering a Rule 60(b) motion to set aside a default
judgment, tt'[w]hen the party is at fault, the
[court's interest in finality and efficiency] dominate[s]
and the party must adequately defend its conduct in order to
show excusable neglect.7" Id. (alterations in
original) (quoting Augusta, 843 F.2d at 811) .
Rule 60(b)(4) 
60(b)(4) provides that the Court mayw [o]n motion
and just terms, . . . relieve a party . . . from a final
judgment . . . for the following reason: the judgment is
void." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4). Although Rule 60 is
phrased in permissive terms, a court does not have discretion
to refuse to vacate a void judgment. See, e.g.,
Philos Techs., Inc. v. Philos & D, Inc., 645
F.3d 851, 855 (7th Cir. 2011); see also 11 Charles
Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, 11 Federal Practice
& Procedure § 2682 (3d ed. 2012) . Moreover,
unlike other motions under Rule 60(b), a party may seek to
set aside a void judgment even years after the court has
entered such judgment. See, e.g., Philos,
645 F.3d at 857 (citations omitted) (stating that a
"collateral challenge to jurisdiction can be brought at
any time") . Similarly, to prevail on a Rule 60(b) (4)
motion, the movant need not establish the existence of a
meritorious defense. Bludworth Bond Shipyard Inc. v. M/V
Caribbean Wind, 841 F.2d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 1988)
(noting that a court must set aside a void judgment under
Rule 60(b)(4) regardless whether the movant has a meritorious
defense); 12 James Wm. Moore et al., Moored Federal
Practice, § 60.44  [b]; 11 Wright & Miller,
supra, § 2862.
purposes of Rule 60(b)(4), a judgment is void "only if
the court rendering the decision lacked personal or subject
matter jurisdiction or acted in a manner inconsistent with
due process of law." Wendt v. Leonard, 431 F.3d
410, 412 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Eberhart v. Integrated
Design & Constr., Inc., 167 F.3d 861, 871 (4th Cir.
1999)) . However, courts "narrowly construe the concept
of axvoid' order under Rule 60(b) (4)
precisely because of the threat to finality of judgments and
the risk that litigants . . . will use Rule 60(b)(4) to
circumvent an appeal process they elected not to
follow." Id. at 412-13 (citations omitted).
Nonetheless, a judgment is void when a court enters it
without personal jurisdiction over a defendant because such
defendant was not validly served with process. Armco v.
Penrod-Stauffer Bldg. ...