CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 965584 KBR
Mr. Frederick L. Ikenson, P.C.
Mr. Larry Hampel
1621 New Hampshire Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009-2584
RE: Pipe Fitting Nuts
Dear Mr. Ikenson and Mr. Hampel:
This is in reference to your letter on behalf of Southland Metals, Inc., to the U.S. Customs Service, Director, National Commodity Specialist Division, New York, dated February 22, 2002, in which you requested a binding ruling, concerning the classification, under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), of cast iron pipe fitting nuts. Drawings, photographs and specifications of the products were submitted. You also submitted a sales brochure from Central Plastics Company, a distributor of the product. Your letter was referred to this office for reply. We regret the delay in responding.
In preparing this ruling, consideration was given to facts and legal arguments you presented during a teleconference with members of my staff on August 30, 2002, and additional submissions you supplied dated August 29, August 30, September 3, and September 9, 2002.
The articles involved are cast iron malleable pipe fitting nuts. You state that Southland Metals has previously entered identical articles into the U.S., however, this ruling request is for prospective shipments.
According to the information provided, the pipe fitting nuts may be imported in a finished condition or, what is termed rough castings requiring some finish machining or threading. The articles are available in several styles which denote the profile and location of the wrench flats on the pipe fitting nut body. Depending on the articles actual application, the article may be referred to as a meter nut, swivel nut, eclipse nut, union nut, regulator nut, or compression nut. The pipe fitting nuts are produced and imported as individual items with distinct part numbers. The schematics submitted for several of the types of nuts show that the pipe fitting nuts are made from material meeting the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard A-197. The schematics show that the threads of the pipe fitting nuts are manufactured to meet the American National Standards Institute/American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ANSI/ASME) standard B1.1. Each type of nut has a ‘shoulder’ or ‘flange’ inside the rim of the nut, interrupting the threads and forming a ‘stop’. This ‘stop’ is intended to catch an external ‘shoulder’ or ‘flange’ of another component with which the pipe fitting nut is intended to be combined.
You maintain the pipe fitting nuts should be classified in subheading 7318.16.00, HTSUS, as screws, bolts, nuts, and similar articles, of iron or steel, threaded articles, nuts. In the alternative, you maintain the articles should be classified in subheading 7325.99.10, HTSUS, as other articles of cast iron.
Whether the subject pipe fitting nuts are goods of heading 7318, HTSUS.
LAW AND ANALYSIS:
Merchandise is classifiable under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) in accordance with the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs). The systematic detail of the HTSUS is such that virtually all goods are classified by application of GRI 1, that is, according to the terms of the headings of the tariff schedule and any relative Section or Chapter Notes. In the event that the goods cannot be classified solely on the basis of GRI 1, and if the headings and legal notes do not otherwise require, the remaining GRIs may then be applied.
In interpreting the headings and subheadings, Customs looks to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System Explanatory Notes (ENs). Although not legally binding, they provide a commentary on the scope of each heading of the HTSUS. It is Customs practice to follow, whenever possible, the terms of the ENs when interpreting the HTSUS. See T.D. 89-90, 54 Fed. Reg. 35127, 35128 (August 23, 1989).
The HTSUS provisions under consideration are as follows:
7307 Tube or pipe fittings (for example, couplings, elbows, sleeves), of iron or steel:
7318 Screws, bolts, nuts, coach screws, screw hooks, rivets, cotters, cotter pins, washers (including spring washers) and similar articles, of iron or steel:
7325 Other cast articles of iron or steel:
7325.99.10 Of cast iron
The ENs for pipe fittings in heading 7307, HTSUS, state, in pertinent part, that the heading covers “fittings of iron or steel, mainly used for connecting the bores of two tubes together, or for connecting a tube to some other apparatus…” The heading does not cover:
“articles used for installing pipes and tubes but which do not form an integral part of the bore (e.g., hangers, stays and similar supports which merely fix or support the tubes and pipes on walls, clamping or tightening band or collars (hose clips) used for clamping flexible tubing or hose to rigid piping, taps, connecting pieces, etc.) (heading 73.25 or 73.26).
The connection is obtained:
by screwing, when using cast iron or steel threaded fittings;
* * * * *
This heading therefore includes flat flanges and flanges with forged collars, elbows and bends and return bends, reducers, tees, crosses, caps and plugs, lap joint stub-ends, fittings for tubular railings and structural elements, off sets, multi-branch pieces, couplings or sleeves, clean out traps, nipples, unions, clamps and collars.
The heading excludes:
* * * * *
(b) Bolts, nuts, screws, etc., suitable for use in the assembly of tube or pipe fittings (heading 73.18).
The ENs for heading 7318, HTSUS, in pertinent part, define what are considered “nuts” which are included in this heading as follows:
Bolts and nuts (including bolt ends), screw studs and other screws for metal, whether or not threaded or tapped, screws for wood and coach-screws are threaded (in the finished state) and are used to assemble or fasten goods so that they can readily be disassembled without damage.
* * * * *
Nuts are metal pieces designed to hold the corresponding bolts in place. They are usually tapped throughout but are sometimes blind. The heading includes wing nuts, butterfly nuts, etc. Lock nuts (usually thinner and castellated) are sometimes used with bolts.
You argue that the ENs state that “lock nuts” are only “sometimes” used with bolts, and therefore nuts and bolts are not necessarily linked. You cite NY E83406 (June 30, 1999) which found that lock nuts used to hold an adjustable, industrial, hydraulic tube fitting in the correct orientation when assembled into a port (valve, manifold, etc.), were classified in subheading 7318.16.00, HTSUS.
Initially, we note that if a consumer wants to purchase pipe fitting nuts, the consumer would locate this type of article with pipe fittings products. The consumer would not find the articles in the fastener (screws, bolts, nuts, etc.) section of a retail establishment. In a conversation with a member of my staff on August 26, 2002, you stated that the manufacturer of this product only deals in pipe fittings, not in fasteners.
A tariff term that is not defined in the HTSUS or described in the ENs is construed in accordance with its common or commercial meaning. Nippon Kogaku (USA) Inc. v. United States, 69 CCPA 89, 673 F.2d 380 (1982). Common and commercial meaning may be determined by consulting dictionaries, lexicons, scientific authorities and other reliable sources. C.J. Tower & Sons v. United States, 69 CCPA 128, 673 F.2d 1268 (1982). “Nut” is defined as “a perforated block usu[ally] of metal that has an internal screw thread and is used on a bolt or screw for tightening or holding something”. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co., 1979. “Nut” is defined by The Random House College Dictionary, Random House Inc., 1973, as “a block, usually of metal, perforated with a threaded hole so that it can be screwed onto a bolt to hold together objects through which the bolt passes.” WordNet 1.6 defines “nut” as “a small square or hexagonal metal block with internal screw thread to be fitted onto a bolt”. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Cambridge International Dictionary of English, defines “nut” as “a small piece of metal with a hole in it that a bolt can be screwed into”. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Cambridge Dictionary of American English, defines “nut” as “a small ring of metal that a bolt (= a screwlike object) can be screwed into to hold something in place”. You submitted a definition from Fastening Devices Inc. v. United States, C.D. 2004 (1958) which cites the definition from Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the American Language which states that a nut “may be fitted upon a bolt, screw, or the like”. You also cite a definition from Construction Glossary An Encylcopedic Reference and Manual, Stewart J. Stein, (2d ed., 1993), which states that nuts are a “[b]lock or sleeve having an internal thread designed to assemble with the external thread on a bolt, screw, stud or other threaded part.” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), in their American Standard, Glossary of Terms for Mechanical Fasteners, uses the same definition as above.
You also submitted information concerning articles called “nuts” which are used on various articles which are not bolts. This information included drawings of various pipe fittings with various articles called “nuts” involved. You also included patents with various types of articles which list a “nut” as a component, but the listed nut is not attached to a bolt or screw. These patents included articles such as swivel joints, union joints, pipe connectors, fluid couplings, hydrants, modular piston rods, modular shower rods, pup joints, and others. We note that although these articles may be called “nuts” in a patent application, no evidence was presented that the articles were classified under the HTSUS as such.
In HQ 959570, dated December 20, 1996, Customs discussed the definition of “nut” in finding that, although the manufacturer called the article a “nut”, the article was not classifiable within heading 7318, HTSUS:
Counsel's second contention that these articles are commonly
and commercially referred to as nuts is apparently based on
promotional literature which depicts the "Inner Cap Nut,
Special," on blueprints for an "Inner Cap Nut" and installation
instructions bearing the same designation. An importer's
promotional literature and marketing profile are indications of
how the importer views his product. Thus, they are of some
probative value, but not conclusive of the common meaning of a
term that is not otherwise defined in the legal text. Resort to
dictionaries, lexicons and other reliable sources of information
is appropriate. In this case, no dictionary or other
lexicographic authority of which we are aware describes an
article threaded both internally and externally as a nut.
Moreover, the rulings counsel cites involve fasteners whose
design and function are dissimilar to the inner cap nut.
However, in the case before us, the pipe fitting nuts are only threaded internally. There are no external threads on the pipe fitting nuts.
Customs has researched the ANSI/ASME and ASTM specifications for threads of pipe fittings and fasteners. The specification for threads of pipe fitting articles is ANSI/ASME B1.20. The specification for threads of fastener articles is ANSI/ASME B1.1. In a facsimile dated August 29, 2002, you submitted schematics which show the threads for the various pipe fitting nuts meet ANSI/ASME B1.1 standards.
However, the instant pipe fitting nuts are designed differently than a common nut. These pipe fitting nuts have an internal ‘shoulder’ or ‘flange’ which would stop an article being threaded through it from emerging at the opposite end of the pipe fitting nut. This internal shoulder precludes the pipe fitting nut from being used with a bolt, screw or stud. The pipe fitting nut operates by placing a free floating part which has an external shoulder inside the pipe fitting nut. The external shoulder of the internal part contacts the internal shoulder of the pipe fitting nut preventing the internal part from sliding all the way through the pipe fitting nut. A third component with external threads then goes over the internal part and screws into the pipe fitting nut which locks the internal and external shoulders together. Therefore, the clamping force of the pipe fitting nut is by the internal shoulder.
A common nut operates differently. The clamping force of the common nut is created by the outside face of the nut. The common nut compresses an article between its exterior face and the face of the bolt, screw or stud. Therefore, the pipe fitting nut and the common nut have different design features, different intended usages, different industry groups, are marketed in different departments and have no commercial interchangability. Therefore, we find that the pipe fitting nuts are not classifiable as “nuts” under subheading 7318.16.00, HTSUS.
You also argue that the ENs for heading 7307, HTSUS, exclude the pipefitting nuts from that chapter. As previously noted, the EN states, in pertinent part, as follows:
This heading does not however cover articles used for installing pipes and tubes but which do not form an integral part of the bore (e.g., hangers, stays and similar supports which merely fix or support the tubes and pipes on walls, clamping or tightening bands or collars (hose clips) used for clamping flexible tubing or hose to rigid piping, taps, connecting pieces, etc.)(heading 37.25 or 73.26).
This EN specifically excludes from heading 7307, HTSUS:
(b) Bolts, nuts, screws, etc., suitable for us in the assembly of tube or pipe fittings (heading 73.18).
You state that the pipe fitting nuts do not form an integral part of the bore. You state the pipe fitting nuts are external to the pipes and never touch the substance that passes through the pipes. The pipe fitting nuts are just used to hold together the components of the pipe fittings. Therefore, you believe the pipe fitting nuts fall within exclusion (b), cited above, since they are used only for the assembly of the pipe fittings. We do not agree. The ENs do not state that the article must touch the substance which is being conveyed by the tubing. The pipe fitting nut is critical to lining up the pipe bores and connecting them together. The pipe could not be held together without the pipe fitting nut. The pipe fitting nut is not an ‘auxiliary’ part, such as a part that merely connects the pipe to a wall.
As to your alternative claim for classification under heading 7325, HTSUS, Customs ruled in HQ 732883 (August 1, 1990), that when all the components of a pipe fitting which included a casting of a nut, which needed finishing by boring and threading, were imported, they would be classified in heading 7307, HTSUS. However, if the imported components needed additional pieces to complete the pipe fitting, because there is no provision for parts of fittings, the imported castings would be classified as cast articles in heading 7325, HTSUS. In the instant case, the pipe fitting nuts are imported by themselves, without any other components of pipe fittings. Therefore, since there is no parts provision for fittings, heading 7307, HTSUS is not appropriate. However, the ENs for heading 7325, HTSUS, excludes “products falling in other headings of the Nomenclature … or unfinished castings which require further working, but have the essential character of such finished products.” As to heading 7325, HTSUS, GRI 2(a) permits us to expand the scope of a 4-digit heading to include incomplete or unfinished articles. In this regard, the ENs for GRI 2(a) state, in part, that the rule also applies to blanks unless these are specified in a particular heading. The term “blank” means an article, not ready for direct use, having the approximate shape or outline of the finished article or part, and which can only be used, other than in exceptional cases, for completion into the finished article or part.
Here we find that the pipe fitting nut castings conform to the cited EN description for blanks, in that they have the approximate shape or outline of a finished article and will be completed into the finished article by threading. Under GRI 2(a), the castings qualify as blanks having the essential character of other threaded articles of the type classifiable in subheading 7318.19.00, HTSUS. See HQ 959641 (June 23, 1997).
In accordance with GRI 1, the pipe fitting nuts are provided for in heading 7318, HTSUS. They are classifiable in subheading 7318.19.00, HTSUS, as screws, bolts, nuts, and other similar articles, of iron or steel, threaded articles, other.
Myles B. Harmon, Acting Director
Commercial Rulings Division