Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Motoring Along

Unless something big happens, this will be my last post for the year. Happy holiday of choice to all of you. Here's to a happy, healthy, and productive 2015.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has affirmed the Court of International Trade's decision in Belimo Automation v. United States.

The issue in the case is the tariff classification of specialized actuators used to move dampers in HVAC systems. The actuators include an electronic circuit that senses the damper angle and adjusts it to maintain proper alignment. The importer argued that these items should be classified in HTSUS item 9032.89.60 as an "automatic regulating and controlling instruments and apparatus; parts thereof." The Federal Circuit disagreed and affirmed the Court of International Trade, which is a win for Customs and Border Protection.

Chapter 90, Note 7(a) provides that Heading 9032 only applies to

Instruments and apparatus for automatically controlling the flow, level, pressure or other variables of liquids or gases, or for automatically controlling temperature, whether or not their operation depends on an electrical phenomenon which varies according to the factor to be automatically controlled, which are designed to bring this factor to, and maintain it at, a desired value, stabilized against disturbances, by constantly or periodically measuring its actual value . . . .
Parsing this Note, the Federal Circuit found that goods of Heading 9032 have three characteristics:

  1.  They automatically control the flow, level pressure or other variables of liquids or gasses , or are for automatically controlling temperature;
  2. They're operation may but need not depend on an electrical phenomenon that varies according to the factor to be automatically controlled; and
  3. they are designed to bring that factor to, and maintain it at, a desired value, stabilized against disturbances, by constantly or periodically measuring its actual value.
The Federal Circuit noted that the actuators do not measure the state of a liquid or gas. Rather, they measure the angle of the damper, which indirectly relates to airflow or temperature. The Court rejected the notion that the actuator need only be sensitive to changes in a measured variable such as temperature. In a somewhat snarky turn of phrase, the Court said "A block of ice may be sensitive to temperature, but it does not 'measure' temperature in any meaningful way." Because Belimo's actuators are not designed to control a factor on the basis of the factor's actual value, it does not satisfy the requirements of Note 7 and, therefore, is not classifiable in 9032.

That leaves the question of whether it is a motor of Heading 8501. To use old TSUS terminology, Belimo argued that the actuator is "more than" a motor by reason of the electronic components. This did not get a positive result from the Court, which noted that the actuators perform the function of converting electrical into mechanical energy. The addition of other functions complement the motor's operation, but the principal function remains to move the damper blades. Consequently, it is a motor.

No comments: