Monday, June 23, 2014

Riddell Me This: When are Football Uniforms Not Sports Equipment?

Answer: when they are classified under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.

This classification decision in Riddell v. United States, addresses one of my pet questions. At some point, is apparel designed for use in conjunction with participating in sports "sports equipment" rather than apparel?

The products at issue in this case are football jerseys, pants, and girdles. Each of them is designed to be worn in conjunction with protective football pads (both hard and soft). However, no pads were included with the merchandise when imported. Customs and Border Protection classified these items under chapters 61 and 62 if the HTSUS. Riddell argued that the merchandise was more properly classified as "Football . . . equipment . . . ." under subheading 9506.99.20. Because the imported goods were not imported with or otherwise incorporate padding or other protective features, the Court of International Trade held that the merchandise is clothing, not sports equipment.

On appeal, Riddell argued that these items constitute football equipment because . . . well, because hockey pants are sports equipment. We know that because the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said so in Bauer Nike Hockey USA v. United States. But, those pants came imported with protective pads. Furthermore, the CAFC found that motorcycle jackets with foam padding were still apparel because they were not protective enough when compared to the helmets worn by motorcycle riders. In that case, the Court held that apparel will only classified as sports equipment when it is "almost exclusively protective in nature."

Stated another way, the Court said that "sports equipment" does not include merchandise that, as imported, would be understood as clothing. Rather, it must have a "transformative element" such as the pads in the hockey pants.

Lacking such transformative elements, i.e, protective padding, the Riddell products did not qualify as sports equipment.  The facts that they were designed for use in conjunction with playing football and that they were often required equipment, were not sufficient to transform them into protective equipment. Everyone involved, though, agreed that the girdles, if not sports equipment, are also classifiable in 6114 because they are not support garments of 6212.

To me, this case raises two questions. First, does Riddell have an opportunity to tariff engineer these products by importing them with the pads?

Second, what about this?

Specialized padding? Check. Designed specifically for cycling? Check. Not something you choose to wear off bike? Check. Lack of pockets and fly? Check. Seriously, if you import these, feel free to call.

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