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Court Rules on Classification of Certain Liquid-Filled Glass Bulbs

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Nov. 18 that certain liquid-filled glass bulbs used in fire sprinkler heads and water heaters are properly classified as other articles of glass under HTSUS 7020.00.60 (5.0 percent duty). The importer had argued for classification as parts of goods of heading 8424 under HTSUS 8424.90.90 (duty-free).

Subject bulbs consist of a sealed, hollow glass tube that is filled with colored liquid and an air bubble. They may be used as a temperature-dependent trigger component of fire sprinkler heads or in water heaters. When installed in a sprinkler head, the bulb is positioned to hold the valve closed and prevent water from being released. When the sprinkler head is exposed to fire, the bulb is heated and the liquid inside expands until the bulb ultimately shatters. When the bulb breaks, the valve of the sprinkler system opens and releases a shower of water intended to extinguish the fire. When used in water heaters, the bulb is positioned to hold open a door to a water heater combustion chamber, which allows air to flow into the chamber. When the temperature rises to a particular threshold, the bulb shatters, forcing the door shut and thereby cutting off the air supply to the combustion chamber and extinguishing the flame.

The Explanatory Note to heading 7020 states that this heading covers glass articles not covered by other headings of chapter 70 or other chapters of the nomenclature. These articles remain in this heading even if combined with materials other than glass, provided they retain the essential character of glass articles. While the CAFC acknowledged that both the glass and the liquid components “play critical roles in the proper functioning of the filled bulb,” the Court determined that the glass weighs more than the liquid, the glass is the more expensive component in all of the imported bulbs except the smallest models and the water heater models, and the bulbs are sometimes referred to as “glass bulbs” and much of the packaging and marketing materials in the record use similar terminology. In addition, Congress amended the HTSUS in 2006 to create a temporary duty-free subheading specifically encompassing the types of bulbs at issue.

In light of this evidence, the CAFC concurred with the Court of International Trade’s earlier ruling that these bulbs are properly classified in heading 7020.

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