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Tyco Fire Products, Limited Partnership v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

November 18, 2016

UNITED STATES, Defendant-Appellee

         Appeals from the United States Court of International Trade in Nos. 1:08-cv-00190-JAR, 1:08-cv-00194-JAR, Jane A. Restani, Senior Judge

          Michael Edward Roll, Pisani & Roll PLLC, Los Angeles, CA, argued for appellant.

          Amy Rubin, International Trade Field Office, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, New York, NY, argued for appellee. Also represented by BENJAMIN C. MlZER, JEANNE E. Davidson; Chi S. Choy, Office of Assistant Chief Counsel, United States Customs and Border Protection, United States Department of Homeland Security, New York, NY.

          Before Prost, Chief Judge, Dyk, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.


         Tyco Fire Products L.P. ("Tyco") appeals a decision of the U.S. Court of International Trade ("CIT"), which granted the government's motion for summary judgment. The CIT held that Tyco's imported goods were properly classified under subheading 7020.00.60 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States ("HTSUS"). Tyco Fire Prods. L.P. v. United States, 82 F.Supp.3d 1340, 1350 (Ct. Int'l Trade 2015) ("Summary Judgment Op."). We affirm.


         The issue in this case is the proper classification of certain liquid-filled glass bulbs according to the HTSUS. Each bulb consists of a sealed, hollow glass tube that is filled with colored liquid and an air bubble. A bulb of this type is commonly used as a temperature-dependent trigger component of fire sprinkler heads. Used in this context, the bulb is installed into a sprinkler head, which acts as a valve, such that the bulb is positioned to hold the valve closed and prevent water from being released. When the sprinkler head is exposed to fire, the bulb is heated and the liquid inside the bulb expands until the bulb ultimately shatters. When the bulb breaks, the valve of the sprinkler system opens and releases a shower of water intended to extinguish the fire.

         Tyco's bulbs can also be used in water heaters. As used in that context, the bulb is positioned to hold open a door to a water heater combustion chamber, which allows air to flow into the chamber. When the temperature rises to a particular threshold, the bulb shatters, forcing the door shut and thereby cutting off the air supply to the combustion chamber, extinguishing the flame.

         Tyco purchased the bulbs from two German manufacturers, Job GmbH ("Job") and Geissler Glasinstrumente GmbH ("Geissler"). Between 2004 and 2006, Tyco imported 42 different models of bulbs into the United States. Of these models, Tyco used 39 in fire sprinkler systems. Tyco used the other 3 models as thermal release devices in water heaters.

         The temperature threshold, or activation temperature, at which the bulb breaks corresponds to the temperature rating for that model of bulb. Different models of bulbs are designed to break at different temperatures, and the temperature rating of each bulb is indicated by a colored dye in the liquid. The liquid inside the Geissler bulbs is triethylene glycol. The composition of the liquid inside the Job bulbs is proprietary to Job. Other relevant qualities of the bulb models include their response time index, which relates to the amount of time required for the bulb to reach its activation temperature; structural strength; and compatibility with environmental conditions.

         U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("Customs") classified the bulbs as "other articles of glass" under HTSUS subheading 7020.00.60 ("Heading 7020"), which has a 5% rate of duty. Tyco protested Customs' ruling and requested further review, asserting that the bulbs are more properly classified under subheading 8424.90.90, which includes "Other" "Parts" of goods classified under heading 8424 and is duty-free.[1] Customs denied Tyco's protest, and Tyco appealed to the CIT.[2]

         On summary judgment, the CIT agreed with Customs and held that the bulbs are properly classified as articles of glass under Heading 7020. The court recognized that Chapter Note 1(c) to Chapter 84 excludes from that chapter "other articles for technical uses or parts thereof, of glass (heading 7019 or 7020)." Consulting the Explanatory Notes ("EN") to Chapter 84 of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System ("HS"), of which the HTSUS is an embodiment, see Pima W., Inc. v. United States, 915 F.Supp. 399, 402 (Ct. Int'l Trade 1996), the court determined that the bulbs are "of glass" within the meaning of the exclusion and, therefore, they are not classifiable under that chapter.

         The court rejected Tyco's assertion that the bulbs fall within exceptions to the exclusion as set forth in the EN to Chapter 84. Specifically, the EN provides:

[T]he following are, as a rule, to be taken to have lost the character ... of glass:
(i) Combinations of . . . glass components with a high proportion of components of other materials (e.g., of metal); also articles consisting of a high proportion of. . . glass components incorporated or permanently mounted in frames, cases or the like, of other materials.
(ii) Combinations of static components of. . . glass with mechanical components such as motors, pumps, etc., of other ...

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