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Irwin Industrial Tool Co. v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

April 9, 2019

IRWIN INDUSTRIAL TOOL COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
UNITED STATES, Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States Court of International Trade in No. 1:14-cv-00285-CRK, Judge Claire R. Kelly.

          Frances Pierson Hadfield, Crowell & Moring, LLP, New York, NY, argued for plaintiff-appellee. Also represented by Daniel Cannistra, Washington, DC.

          Matthew James Glover, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for defendant-appellant.

          Also represented by Jeanne Davidson, Joseph H. Hunt; Amy Rubin, Guy Eddon, New York, NY; Michael W. Heydrich, Office of the Assistant Chief Counsel, United States Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, United States Department of Homeland Security, New York, NY.

          Before Lourie, Mayer, and Reyna, Circuit Judges.

          LOURIE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         The United States appeals from the judgment of the United States Court of International Trade ("the Trade Court") granting Irwin Industrial Tool Company's ("Irwin") motion for summary judgment that its imported hand tools are properly classified as pliers, Irwin Indus. Tool Co. v. United States, 269 F.Supp.3d 1294 (Ct. Int'l Trade 2017) ("Irwin II"), and interpreting subheading 8204.12.00 and 8203.20.6030 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States ("HTSUS"), Irwin Indus. Tool Co. v. United States, 222 F.Supp.3d 1210 (Ct. Int'l Trade 2017) ("Irwin I"). Because the imported articles are properly classified as pliers under 8203.20.6030, we affirm.

         Background

         Irwin imported several styles of hand tools, including straight jaw locking pliers, large jaw locking pliers, curved jaw locking pliers with and without wire cutters, and long nose locking pliers with wire cutters. U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("Customs" or "the government") classified Irwin's tools as "wrenches" under subheading 8204.12.00 of the HTSUS and denied each of Irwin's protests to classify them as "pliers." Irwin then filed suit in the Trade Court challenging Customs' classification.

         The Trade Court denied the government's motion for summary judgment that the tools are properly classified as wrenches, Irwin I, 222 F.Supp.3d at 1229, but granted Irwin's motion for summary judgment that the tools are properly classified as pliers, Irwin II, 269 F.Supp.3d at 1305. In its response to Irwin's motion, the government moved for reconsideration of the court's order construing the tariff terms, which the court also denied. Id. at 1305- 06.

         The Trade Court first interpreted the term wrenches found in subheading 8204.12.00. It reviewed a series of dictionary definitions and industry standards before concluding that the term wrenches is an eo nomine term not controlled by use. The court interpreted wrenches to mean "a hand tool that has a head with jaws or sockets having surfaces adapted to snugly or exactly fit and engage the head of a fastener (such as bolt-head or nut) and a singular handle with which to leverage hand pressure to turn the fastener without damaging the fastener's head." Irwin I, 222 F.Supp.3d at 1221 (footnote omitted).

         The Trade Court then conducted a similar analysis for the term pliers in subheading 8203.20.6030 of the HTSUS and found the "common and commercial meaning of 'pliers' refers to a versatile hand tool with two handles and two jaws that are flat or serrated and are on a pivot, which must be squeezed together to enable the tool to grasp an object; the jaws may, or may not, lock together to hold the object while using the tool." Id. at 1224.

         Following these interpretations, the Trade Court denied the government's motion for summary judgment that the tools at issue are properly classified as wrenches and granted Irwin's motion that the tools are pliers. In the court's view, the undisputed facts demonstrated that the products at issue were pliers within subheading 8203.20.6030 because the tools "1) are versatile hand tools, 2) have two handles, and 3) have two jaws, that are flat or serrated and are on a pivot, which can be squeezed together to enable the tools to grasp an object." Irwin II, 269 F.Supp.3d at 1302.

         The government appealed. We have jurisdiction under 28 ...


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