In a recent opinion, the U.S. Court of International Trade (“CIT”) found, at least in part, in favor of the producer of pet carriers, by excluding the items from a catch-all baggage classification.

Since 2013, Quaker Pet Group, LLC (“QPG”)  has been challenging the government’s classification of various styles of cloth carriers for dogs, cats, and other animals.  The government has classified the carriers under subheading 4202.39 for “travel, sport and similar bags” and assessed a 17.6% duty rate.  QPG argues that the carriers are not “bags” and should be classified as textiles under Chapter 63.

According to the CIT, the classification turns on the fact that the items at issue are designed to carry living things, not inanimate objects.  Citing Additional U.S. Note 1 to HTSUS Chapter 42, the CIT noted that “travel, sport and similar bags” are defined as being “of a kind designed for carrying clothing and other personal effects during travel.”  Because pets are not clothing, the CIT turned to a determination of whether pets are properly considered “personal effects.”

The CIT noted that HTSUS does not define “personal effects” and, therefore, it relied on definitions gathered from various dictionaries. Among the definitions cited was commonality in the fact that “personal effects” are inanimate items, such as keys or a wallet, which are regularly worn or carried by a person.  The government, relying on numerous cases finding pets to be personal property in the context Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment analyses, argued that pets can fall within the definition of personal property or effects.  The CIT found the government’s argument unpersuasive, holding that even if pets are considered personal property, they do not meet the definition of “personal effects” which is the express language used in the explanatory Note for Chapter 42.

The government also argued that even the carriers did not fall withing Section 4202.39, they were still properly classified under Chapter 42 as another type of bag.  The CIT relied on the Federal Circuit’s decision in Avenues in Leather, Inc. v. United States, 423 F.3d 1326, 1332 (Fed. Cir. 2005), which held that “the common characteristic or unifying purpose of the goods in heading 4202 consist[s] of organizing, storing, protecting, and carrying various items.”  The CIT again relied on dictionary definitions to determine that pets are not “items” or “things,” and, therefore do not meet the general criteria announced in Avenues in Leather for classification under Chapter 42.

Although the CIT determined that the carriers are not properly classified under Chapter 42, the CIT found that the record was not sufficient for it to determine whether the carriers should be classified under hearing 6307 for “other made up articles, including dress patterns” of textile, as QPG proposed. Specifically, the CIT stated that it did not have sufficient information regarding the “predominant material” from which each of the styles of carrier was constructed or the procedures for assembling the carriers.  Accordingly, the CIT directed further proceeding to determine the proper classification of the carriers.