On May 4, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bullard v. Blue Hills Bank, No. 14-116, holding that a bankruptcy court’s order denying confirmation of a Chapter 13 debtor’s proposed repayment plan is not a final order and thus is not immediately appealable.
Louis Bullard commenced a bankruptcy case under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. He submitted for court consideration and confirmation a Chapter 13 plan for the repayment of his debts. His chief creditor, Blue Hills Bank, disagreed with Bullard’s proposed treatment of his debt to the bank and opposed confirmation of the plan. The Bankruptcy Court declined to confirm the plan, but acknowledged that other Bankruptcy Courts in the First Circuit had approved similar plans.
Bullard appealed the denial of his plan to the First Circuit’s Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP). The BAP held that the Bankruptcy Court’s order denying plan confirmation was not final for purposes of appeal, but addressed the merits under a discretionary interlocutory appeal provision and upheld the denial of plan confirmation. Bullard sought, but the BAP rejected, a request to certify an interlocutory appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. When Bullard sought review by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The First Circuit held it would have jurisdiction only if the BAP’s order were final, and concluded that the BAP order was not final because the opinion of the Bankruptcy Court was not final.
The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a bankruptcy court’s order denying confirmation of a proposed Chapter 13 plan is not a final order that is immediately appealable. Under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a), parties may appeal from “final judgments, orders, and decrees…in cases and proceedings” in bankruptcy courts. The denial of a proposed Chapter 13 plan, however, does not mark the end of the relevant bankruptcy “proceeding.” The relevant “proceeding” is the entire process of considering plans. An order denying confirmation of a Chapter 13 plan is not final so long as the debtor remains free to propose an alternate plan. In contrast, either the confirmation of a Chapter 13 plan (which ends the relevant “proceeding” of arriving at an approved plan that would allow the bankruptcy to move forward) or the dismissal of the debtor’s bankruptcy case is final for purposes of appeal. The Court noted, however, that a denial of plan confirmation sometimes may be appealed either under the general interlocutory appeals statute or under the Bankruptcy Code’s interlocutory mechanism, which “allows a bankruptcy court, district court, BAP, or the parties acting jointly to certify a bankruptcy court’s order to the court of appeals, which then has discretion to hear the matter.”
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.