November 13, 2019
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE
appeal of right lies from "final judgments, orders, and
decrees" entered by bankruptcy courts "in cases and
proceedings." 28 U.S.C. §158(a). Bankruptcy court
orders are considered final and immediately appealable if
they "dispose of discrete disputes within the larger
[bankruptcy] case." Bullard v. Blue Hills, 575
U.S. 496, 501.
Group, Inc. (Ritzen) sued Jackson Masonry, LLC (Jackson) in
Tennessee state court for breach of a land-sale contract.
Jackson filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the
Bankruptcy Code. The state-court litigation was put on hold
by operation of 11 U.S.C. §362(a), which provides that
filing a bankruptcy petition automatically "operates as
a stay" of creditors' debt-collection efforts
outside the umbrella of the bankruptcy case. The Bankruptcy
Court denied Ritzen's motion for relief from the
automatic stay filed pursuant to §362(d). Ritzen did not
appeal that disposition. Instead, its next step was to file a
proof of claim against the bankruptcy estate. The Bankruptcy
Court subsequently disallowed Ritzen's claim and
confirmed Jackson's plan of reorganization. Ritzen then
filed a notice of appeal in the District Court, challenging
the Bankruptcy Court's order denying relief from the
automatic stay. The District Court rejected Ritzen's
appeal as untimely under 28 U.S.C. §158(c)(2) and
Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 8002(a), which require
appeals from a bankruptcy court order to be filed
"within 14 days after entry of [that] order." The
Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the order denying
Ritzen's motion to lift the stay was final under
§158(a), and that the 14-day appeal clock therefore ran
from entry of that order.
A bankruptcy court's order unreservedly denying
relief from the automatic stay constitutes a final,
immediately appealable order under §158(a). Pp. 6-12.
This Court's application of §158(a)'s finality
requirement is guided by the opinion in Bullard v. Blue
Hills Bank, 575 U.S. 496. Addressing repayment plan
confirmations under Chapter 13, the Court held in
Bullard that a bankruptcy court's order
rejecting a proposed plan was not final because it did not
conclusively resolve the relevant "proceeding."
Rather, the proceeding would continue until approval of a
plan. Id., at 502. P. 6.
applying Bullard's analysis here, the key
inquiry is "how to define the immediately appealable
'proceeding' in the context of [stay-relief
motions]." 575 U.S., at 502. Adjudication of a
creditor's motion for relief from the stay is properly
considered a discrete "proceeding." A bankruptcy
court's order ruling on a stay-relief motion disposes of
a procedural unit anterior to, and separate from,
claim-resolution proceedings. It occurs before and apart from
proceedings on the merits of creditors' claims. And its
resolution forms no part of the adversary claims-adjudication
process, proceedings typically governed by state substantive
law. Relief from bankruptcy's automatic stay thus
presents a discrete dispute qualifying as an independent
"proceeding" within the meaning of §158(a).
Bullard, 575 U.S., at 502-505. Pp. 6-8.
Ritzen incorrectly characterizes denial of stay relief as
determining nothing more than the forum for claim
adjudication and thus a preliminary step in the
claims-adjudication process. Resolution of a stay-relief
motion can have large practical consequences, however,
including whether a creditor can isolate its claim from those
of other creditors and go it alone outside bankruptcy or the
manner in which adversary claims will be adjudicated.
Moreover, bankruptcy's automatic stay stops even
nonjudicial efforts to obtain or control the debtor's
assets, matters that often do not concern the forum for, and
cannot be considered part of, any subsequent claim
adjudication. Ritzen errs in arguing that the order should
nonetheless rank as non-final where, as here, the bankruptcy
court's decision turns on a substantive issue that may be
raised later in the litigation. Section 158(a) asks whether
the order in question terminates a procedural unit separate
from the remaining case, not whether the bankruptcy court has
preclusively resolved a substantive issue. Finally, rather
than disrupting the efficiency of the bankruptcy process,
immediate appeal may permit creditors to establish their
rights expeditiously outside the bankruptcy process,
affecting the relief sought and awarded later in the
bankruptcy case. Pp. 8-11.
F.3d 494, affirmed.
JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.
the Bankruptcy Code, filing a petition for bankruptcy
automatically "operates as a stay" of
creditors' debt-collection efforts outside the umbrella
of the bankruptcy case. 11 U.S.C. §362(a). The question
this case presents concerns the finality of, and therefore
the time allowed for appeal from, a bankruptcy court's
order denying a creditor's request for relief from the
automatic stay. In civil litigation generally, a court's
decision ordinarily becomes "final," for purposes
of appeal, only upon completion of the entire case,
i.e., when the decision "terminated the]
action" or "ends the litigation on the merits and
leaves nothing for the court to do but execute the
judgment." Gelboim v. Bank of America Corp.,
574 U.S. 405, 409 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The regime in bankruptcy is different. A bankruptcy case
embraces "an aggregation of individual
controversies." 1 Collier on Bankruptcy
¶5.08[l][b], p. 5-43 (16th ed. 2019). Orders in
bankruptcy cases qualify as "final" when they
definitively dispose of discrete disputes within the
overarching bankruptcy case. Bullard v. Blue Hills
Bank, 575 U.S. 496, 501 (2015).
precise issue the Court today decides: Does a creditor's
motion for relief from the automatic stay initiate a distinct
proceeding terminating in a final, appealable order when the
bankruptcy court rules dispositively on the motion? In
agreement with the courts below, our answer is
"yes." We hold that the adjudication of a motion
for relief from the automatic stay forms a discrete
procedural unit within the embracive bankruptcy case. That
unit yields a final, appealable order when the bankruptcy
court unreservedly grants or denies relief.
civil litigation generally, 28 U.S.C. §1291 governs
appeals from "final decisions." Under that
provision, a party may appeal to a court of appeals as of
right from "final decisions of the district
courts." Ibid. A "final decision"
within the meaning of §1291 is normally limited to an
order that resolves the entire case. Accordingly, the
appellant must raise all claims of error in a single appeal.
See In re Saco Local Development Corp., 711 F.2d
441, 443 (CA11983) (Breyer, J.) ("Traditionally, every
civil action in a federal court has been viewed as a
'single judicial unit,' from which only one appeal
would lie."). This understanding of the term "final
decision" precludes "piecemeal, prejudgment
appeals" that would "undermin[e] efficient judicial
administration and encroac[h] upon the prerogatives of
district court judges." Bullard, 575 U.S., at
501 (quoting Mohawk Industries, Inc. v. Carpenter,
558 U.S. 100, 106 (2009); internal quotation marks omitted).
ordinary understanding of "final decision" is not
attuned to the distinctive character of bankruptcy
litigation. A bankruptcy case encompasses numerous
"individual controversies, many of which would exist as
stand-alone lawsuits but for the bankrupt status of the
debtor." Bullard, 575 U.S., at 501 (internal
quotation marks omitted). It is thus common for bankruptcy
courts to resolve discrete controversies definitively while
the umbrella bankruptcy case remains pending. Delaying
appeals from discrete, controversy-resolving decisions in
bankruptcy cases would long postpone appellate review of
fully adjudicated disputes. Moreover, controversies
adjudicated during the life of a bankruptcy case may be
linked, one dependent on the outcome of another. Delaying
appeal until the termination of the entire bankruptcy case,
therefore, could have this untoward consequence: Reversal of
a decision made early on could require the bankruptcy court
to unravel later adjudications rendered in reliance on an
provision on appeals to U.S. district courts from decisions
of bankruptcy courts is 28 U.S.C. §158(a). Under that
provision, an appeal of right lies from "final
judgments, orders, and decrees" entered by bankruptcy
courts "in cases and proceedings." Ibid.
By providing for appeals from final decisions in bankruptcy
"proceedings," as distinguished from bankruptcy
"cases," Congress made "orders in bankruptcy
cases ... immediately appeal[able] if they finally dispose of
discrete disputes within the larger [bankruptcy] case."
Bullard, 575 U.S., at 501 (quoting Howard
Delivery Service, Inc. v. Zurich American Ins. Co., 547
U.S. 651, 657, n. 3 (2006)); see In re Saco Local
Development Corp., 711 F.2d, at 444-447. In short,
"the usual judicial unit for analyzing ...