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After Considering Use, CIT Classifies Screws in Lower Duty Provision

Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Following a controversial decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that the use of certain screws should be considered in determining their classification even though the two subheadings at issue are both eo nomine provisions, the Court of International Trade has issued a remand decision that the screws are properly considered self-tapping screws.

The screws at issue are made with corrosion-resistant case-hardened steel and are marketed for use in carpentry as building material fasteners. One model has a flat self-countersinking head designed to cut away at the top layer of the material as the screw is driven into place. Two others have much smaller heads that are designed to prevent the screws from cracking and splitting the target material. Each model is available in a variety of lengths, diameters and thread designs. U.S. Customs and Border Protection classified the screws as other wood screws under HTSUS subheading 7318.12.00 (12.5 percent duty), whereas the plaintiff claimed classification as self-tapping screws under HTSUS 7318.14.10 (6.2 percent duty).

In a 2014 split decision, the CAFC cited judicial precedent as having established that the use of articles may, under certain circumstances, be considered in tariff classification according to eo nomine provisions. A judicial inquiry involving an eo nomine provision, the CAFC said, may thus include the article’s physical characteristics as well as what features it has for typical users, how it is designed and for what objectives, and how it is marketed. A dissenting opinion criticized this determination and said it “blurs the boundaries between eo nomine and principal use provisions in ways that will promote confusion and error in future classification cases.”

The CIT has now issued its remand decision in this case, finding that (1) the common and commercial meaning of a wood screw is a screw that forms its own thread by compressing surrounding material designed to fasten wood to wood or other fibrous material and (2) the common and commercial meaning of a self-tapping screw is a specially hardened screw that meets minimum torsional strength requirements, can cut away material to form a mating thread in non-fibrous material, and is designed to fasten non-fibrous materials, such as metal, to either fibrous or non-fibrous materials.

The court states that pursuant to the CAFC’s direction it has considered use and that there is no authority to suggest that a self-tapping screw is limited to use with non-fibrous materials. Sharing features or applications with wood screws does not disqualify a screw from being a self-tapping screw, the CIT states, nor does the fact that self-tapping screws may have features that make them also suitable to be used in wood. As a result, given their physical characteristics as well as their intended use in applications that require a screw that cut its threads through non-fibrous materials, the court concludes that the screws at issue are properly classified as self-tapping screws.

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