defendants. This prompted the defendants, on August 4, to file an "emergency" motion to vacatethe default judgment. The default judgment was entered on August 9, 2004, and thedefendants' motion was heard on September 14. The motion judge denied the requestedrelief. The judge ruled that the grounds cited by the defendants, for relief underMass.R.Civ.P. 60(b), 365 Mass. 828 (1974), lacked merit, and added that justice wouldnot be served in this case by "relieving the defendants from their conscious, extended,and unjustified inattention" to the case. [FN10] The judge characterized the defendants'contentions that they had been disadvantaged by inadequate service of process, as being,at best, "disingenuous." The defendants' renewed motion, filed on November 2, 2004, did not raise any differentground for reconsideration of the denial of their original rule 60(b) motion. The judgechanged course, however, and in an order dated June 30, 2005, allowed the renewedmotion insofar as it sought an order vacating the default judgment vis-à-vis Boykanbecause of the plaintiffs' technically deficient service of process. [FN11] The judgeconcluded Boykan did not waive a defense of insufficiency of service of process. Thecombined rulings were error as matter of law. [FN12]
Rule 60(b) of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedureprovides a limited exception to the finality of a judgment. Relief is available in a narrowset of circumstances, specified in subdivisions (b)(1) through (b)(6), to accomplish justice. "Properly applied Rule 60(b) strikes a balance between serving the ends of justiceand preserving the finality of [a] judgment[ ]."
Harris v. Sannella,
400 Mass. 392, 395(1987), quoting from
Nemaizer v. Baker,
793 F.2d 58, 61 (2d Cir.1986). That appropriatebalance, between finality and justice, was turned on its head in this case. Even though rule 60(b) allows for a considerable measure of discretion in its application,a judge is not permitted, in exercising that discretion, to grant relief to a party absent ashowing of good cause or excusable neglect, see
Gath v. M/A-Com, Inc.,
440 Mass. 482,497 (2003)
the existence of a meritorious defense. See
Berube v. McKesson Wine& Spirits Co.,
7 Mass.App.Ct. 426, 430 (1979);
Tai v. Boston,
45 Mass.App.Ct. 220, 222(1998). The motion judge did not find that any such showing was made here by Boykan, soas to permit the issuance of relief under subdivision (b)(1), the excusable neglect exception,[FN13] or that of (b)(6), the catch-all provision, available only in exotic or exceptionalcircumstances, [FN14] not shown to be present in this case. The only possible ground for relief under rule 60(b) was its quite narrow exception,provided for by subdivision (b)(4), which applies only in the circumstance when a judgmentis "void" as matter of law. We review de novo the judge's decision along this line. See
Field v. Massachusetts Gen. Hosp.,
393 Mass. 117, 118 (1984), citing Reporters' Notes toMass.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4), Mass. Ann. Laws, Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure at 586(Law.Co-op.1982) ("Rule 60[b] allows relief only from void judgments. A court mustvacate a void judgment. It may not vacate a valid one. No discretion is granted by therule").