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Court Denies Duty-Free Treatment for Items Used During Holidays

Thursday, April 05, 2018
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has upheld a Court of International Trade ruling that certain dinnerware and other items with holiday themes or designed to be used during holidays are properly classified according to their constituent materials and dutiable at rates ranging from three to six percent. These items include decorative ceramic plates, mugs, and gravy boats as well as crystal flutes, punch bowls, and footed hurricane lamps. They feature Christmas and Thanksgiving motifs and most are designed to be used to serve food and beverages at holiday dinners.

The plaintiff argued that the items are classified as utilitarian articles of a kind used in the home in the performance of specific religious or cultural ritual celebrations for religious or cultural holidays or religious festive occasions under HTSUS 9817.95.01 (duty-free). The plaintiff asserted that Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners involve “prescribed and specific acts and series of acts and their own particular cultural rituals and sub-rituals, which go beyond the gathering for and consumption of ordinary meals;” e.g., gathering together at one location to celebrate in a traditional way, consumption of special food and drink, and more formal table settings decorated with seasonal displays.

However, the CAFC rejected this argument, stating that these acts do not rise to the level of specificity required to be considered a ritual. Even if they did, the court said, the ritual of dinner would continue whether the items have festive motifs or not; i.e., the motifs themselves do nothing to further the ritual.

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