In a recent opinion, the Court of International Trade upheld the determination by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that certain doorknobs imported by home-improvement retailer Home Depot are properly classified as locks and subject to a higher duty than other doorknobs.
In essence, the dispute came down to a question of whether a doorknob that locks is (i) a doorknob or (ii) a lock.
Doorknobs are classified heading 8302 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) which covers “[b]ase metal mountings, fittings and similar articles suitable for . . . doors . . . .” The relevant Explanatory Notes clarify that heading 8302 “covers general purpose classes of base metal accessory fittings and mountings, such as are used on furniture, doors, windows, coachwork, etc” and that the term “[m]ountings, fittings and similar articles suitable for buildings” includes “handles and knobs for doors, including those for locks and latches.” Doorknobs classified under heading 8302 are subject to 3.9% duty.
Locks, on the other hand, are classified under HTSUS heading 8301 which covers “[p]adlocks and locks (key, combination or electrically operated), of base metal.” Locks classified under heading 8301 are subject to a 5.7% duty.
Home Depot argued that its products, doorknob sets consisting of exterior and interior doorknobs with trim, a latch component, strike plate, keys, and installation hardware, were plainly doorknobs under heading 8302. Home Depot argued that the products were an “improved” doorknob with a lock function. CBP argued that products were, first and foremost, locks to secure an exterior door, as evidenced by the “key-operated” nature of the products. The Court agreed with CBP, finding that the doorknobs were part of the lock, specifically, they were the lever used to open the lock. The Court also cited Home Depot’s testing and advertising of the knobs as locks. The Court clarified that doorknobs without this locking function are still properly classified under heading 8302.
One take away from the Court’s decision was its rejection of Home Depot’s argument that the products at issue were similar to other knobs that had been classified under heading 8302. The Court reiterated that HTSUS does not call for a comparison of articles under a giving heading, but rather that each article is to be compared to the wording of the tariff provisions. As advocacy to CBP and the Court is often by done by analogy to similar articles, it is important to always remain focused on the language of the tariff provision itself.