Monday, February 13, 2017

Snuggies Are Blankets

[UPDATED TO ADD LINK TO THE DECISION]

Remember Snuggies? A few years back, they were part of the zeitgeist. Here is a reminder of exactly what is a Snuggie.



According to the commercial, Snuggies are wearable blankets with sleeves-like tubes. That raises an interesting classification question. Is it a blanket of HTSUS item 6301.40.00 (8.5%) or is it a garment classifiable in 6114.30.30 (14.9%)? Or, if it is neither, is it an "other made up article?" The Court of International Trade had to decide that question in Allstar Marketing Group v. U.S.

These are important questions in my world. I get that there is a lot going on in the larger world. Lately, I have been inspired and a little shamed watching lawyers who practice in areas affecting the actual lives and liberty of people, particularly refugees and others trying to entry the country. It made me proud to be a lawyer to see my colleagues set up shop at airports to provide assistance. Yesterday, I was at a meeting sponsored by HIAS Chicago at which an immigration lawyer offered pro bono assistance to arriving refugees. Occasionally, we get to undertake projects for individuals and worthwhile organizations, but that is uncommon in my practice. Here is an example of which I am still proud. Happily, I am currently working on a project that I think will serve the larger public, but it is still in the early stages and will not have the direct, personal impact that we have seen from the good work of immigration lawyers.

Now, back to the wearable blanket.

The evidence presented to the Court of International Trade shows that the importer referred to Snuggies as blankets in communications with the producer-supplier. The marketing materials show people using Snuggies in a variety of settings both in the home and outside, including on an airplane and at a sports stadium. Snuggies have sleeve-like tubes attached to allow users (or are they wearers?) to use their arms freely while still in the comparative warmth of the Snuggie.

The Court found that it had all the information necessary to resolve the matter and that there were no material questions of fact in dispute. That means, the only question is whether Snuggies fit within the common and commercial meaning of the tariff terms "garments" or "blankets." Under Note 2(a) to Chapter 63, if Snuggies are classifiable as garments, they cannot be classified as blankets or other textile items.

Tariff item 6114.30.30 covers "Other garments, knitted or crocheted: Of man-made fibers: other . . . ." There is no dispute that Snuggies are knitted of man-made fibers. The question is, are they "garments?" Looking at the structure of Section XI, the Court found that the items specified in Headings 6101 through 6114 are "garments," which is interchangeable with "apparel." Prior court decisions indicate that apparel is articles that "are ordinarily worn--dress in general." These are "clothes and covering for the human body warn for decency or comfort" as well as adornment. The government argued that because Snuggies are worn for comfort, they are apparel. The Plaintiff argued that because they are not worn for decency and adornment, they are not apparel.

The Court focused on the fact that apparel is "ordinarily worn." Specialized items covered by the apparel provisions include aprons, smocks, clerical vestments, scholastic (and presumably judicial) robes, and certain sports apparel. According to the Court, all of these are more akin to apparel than are Snuggies.

The Court then considered the use of the product. For why, see here. Physically, Snuggies are one-size-fits-all items and are open in the back. These characteristics do not resemble the kind of apparel that is "ordinarily worn." Furthermore, Snuggies were "inspired" by prior existing products called "Slankets" and "Freedom Blankets," both of which were marketed as blankets. Finally, the sales and marketing literature refers to the Snuggie as a blanket. According to the Plaintiff, that makes Snuggies improved blankets.

Blanket is defined as a warm covering used especially on a bed or a similar article used as a body covering for warmth. The Snuggie was designed and marketed as a covering for warmth. Since "blanket" is an eo nomine tariff description, it includes all forms of the article, including improved forms. From that, the Court was able to find Snuggies to be blankets (with sleeves). The addition of sleeves, according to the Court, did not so modify the nature of the article to make it something other than a blanket. The sleeves are incidental to the warming cover that is a Snuggie.

Thus, the plaintiff wins (this round) and Snuggies are classifiable as blankets of 6301.40.00.

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