SC Johnson & Son Inc. v. United States
Section: Federal Circuit and CIT Case Summaries

The Federal Circuit affirmed the CIT’s opinion upholding CBP’s classification of plaintiff-appellant’s Ziploc® brand reclosable sandwich bags under heading 3923, HTSUS, as “[a]rticles for the conveyance or packing of goods, of plastics; stoppers, lids, caps and other closures, of plastics: Sacks and bags (including cones): Of polymers of ethylene.” S.C. Johnson argued that the sandwich bags should have instead been classified under heading 3924, HTSUS, as “[t]ableware, kitchenware, other household articles and hygienic or toilet articles, of plastics: Other: Other.” Below, the CIT held that HTSUS heading 3923 “is a principal use provision and encompasses goods of plastic used to carry or transport other goods of any kind,” while heading 3924 “is an eo nomine provision that encompasses plastic goods of or relating to the house or household.” After a bench trial, the CIT concluded that the sandwich bags were prima facie classifiable under both headings at issue and, applying GRI 3, held classification under heading 3923 to be appropriate because that heading “has requirements that are more difficult to satisfy and describe the article with a greater degree of accuracy and certainty.”
In sustaining the CIT’s holding regarding the applicability of heading 3923, the Federal Circuit rejected S.C. Johnson’s argument that that heading should have the same scope as its predecessor tariff provision under TSUS item 772.20 (and therefore be limited to articles used for commercial purposes). The Federal Circuit concluded that S.C. Johnson’s argument failed to take into account that the language of HTSUS heading 3923 differs from TSUS item 772.20 in two material respects and was undermined by the Explanatory Notes for heading 3923 indicating that the heading encompassed disposable household bags. The Federal Circuit further distinguished its prior holding in SGI, Inc. v. United States, 122 F.3d 1468 (Fed. Cir. 1997), which rejected classification of soft-sided insulated coolers under heading 3923.
The Federal Circuit further sustained the CIT’s holding that heading 3924 is an eo nomine provision rather than a use provision, because the key inquiry is where the articles at issue are located (i.e., in the household), rather than how they are used. In so doing, the Federal Circuit again differentiated SGI.