Justia Summary

In Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Sears, as a debtor in possession, exercised its rights under 11 U.S.C. 363(b)(1) and sold most of its assets to Transform, including the right to designate to whom a lease should be assigned. Section 365 prohibits the assignment of an unexpired lease without “adequate assurance of future performance by the assignee,” and establishes special criteria related to “shopping center[s],” Transform designated the Mall of America lease for assignment. The landlord, MOAC, objected, arguing that Sears had failed to provide adequate assurance. The Bankruptcy Court approved the assignment.

Section 363(m) states that the reversal or modification on appeal of a 363(b) authorization of a sale or lease does not affect the validity of a sale or lease to an entity that purchased or leased the property in good faith, even if the entity knew of the pendency of the appeal unless the court entered a stay pending appeal. The Bankruptcy Court denied MOAC’s request for a stay. Sears assigned the lease. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the appeal, treating 363(m) as jurisdictional.

The Supreme Court vacated. Section 363(m) is not jurisdictional and is not, therefore, impervious to excuses like waiver or forfeiture. The Court noted the consequences of deeming the section jurisdictional–even egregious conduct by a litigant could permit the application of judicial estoppel against a jurisdictional rule. Courts should only treat a provision as jurisdictional if Congress “clearly states” as much. Nothing in 363(m) purports to govern a court’s adjudicatory capacity; it plainly contemplates that appellate courts might reverse or modify any covered authorization, with a limitation on the consequences. Congress separated 363(m) from jurisdictional provisions. The Court rejected Transform’s argument that the transfer to a good-faith purchaser removes the property from the bankruptcy estate, and so from the court’s in rem jurisdiction.