Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pomeroy Collection

I am going to make short work of a long opinion.

The Pomeroy Collection, Ltd. v. United States concerns the tariff classification of various glass and glass and metal decorative items that may or may not be used as candle holders. And that is really the gist of the case. As imported, none of the items included a candle and, unlike traditional candlesticks or candelabras, there was no cup, spike, or other mechanism in these articles to hold a candle in place. Rather, the imported merchandise consisted of the following:

  • Concave glass plates with small pillar feet on the bottom. I am picturing a very shallow bowl with feet to make it stable when displayed on a shelf or tabletop.
  • Glass vessels with a rounded bottoms held in a decorative metal stand to be placed on the floor.
  • Glass vessels with rounded bottoms held in a decorative metal fixture to be attached to a wall. For this, I am picturing a fairly deep bowl or vase mounted to the wall sconce-style.
Here is the best illustrative picture I could find although these are clearly not the same products. Also, remember that as imported, there was no candle.

The importer claimed that all of these products were candle holders and, therefore, classifiable as lamps and light fittings under Heading 9405. Customs wanted to classify these products as decorative glass articles under Heading 7013.

The important legal point here is that Note 1(e) to Chapter 70 excludes from that Chapter lamps or light fittings of heading 9405. So, if the goods are classifiable in 9405, they cannot be classified in 7013.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Explanatory Notes to 9405 state that lamps and light fitting include items that use any source of light including candles and specifically states that it covers candlesticks and candelabras. Turning to dictionary definitions, the Court found that candlesticks and candelabras have a cup, socket, or spike to secure the candle. None of the imported merchandise had similar features. And, none came with a candle.

Looking at the "pillar plates," the Court found that they lacked design features similar to other candle holders. The Court also noted that the decorative plates could be used to hold many decorative items including fruit. Consequently, they could not be classified in 9405.

With respect to both styles of glass vessels, the Court reached essentially the same conclusion; these articles as imported could be used to hold any decorative items and were not lamps. The bigger problem for the Court was deciding whether, under GRI 3(b) they should be classified as glass items or as articles of the metal that made up the holders. In the end, the Court decided that the function of the article is hold objects and that the glass gives the article its ability to serve that function. Consistent with that conclusion, the Court classified these items in 7013 as decorative glass.

An interesting alternative theory was also addressed. Plaintiffs proposed that this merchandise could be classified as furniture in Heading 9403. The first problem with that theory was that, with some exceptions, "furniture" has to be designed to be placed on the floor or ground. That would eliminate the plates and sconces. The second problem is that, despite what the design diva's on HGTV might tell you, furniture is utilitarian in nature rather than decorative. These products, on the other hand, are decidedly decorative. Hence, they are not furniture.

So, the Court found all three categories of merchandise to be decorative glass and ordered it classified accordingly.

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