OT:RR:CTF:VS H303987 CMR
Ms. Maristella Iacobello
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
RE: Classification of a men’s woven pant; Adaptive Clothing; Articles for the Handicapped
Dear Ms. Iacobello:
This is in response to your request, dated April 18, 2019, for a ruling on the classification of a pair of men’s pants, and the eligibility of the garment for duty-free treatment under 9817.00.96, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), which provides for, among other things, articles specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the physically or mentally handicapped. Your ruling request has been forwarded to our office for a response.
The garment at issue is referred to as “Adaptive Style# ‘Dual Side Opening Seated Pant.’” The garment is a pair of men’s trousers constructed from 97% cotton, 3% elastane woven fabric. The garment features a flat waistband with a front rise which is lower than the back rise. The garment also features two inset pockets at the waist; a faux front fly; outer openings that run the entire length of the garment on each side from the waist, along the outer legs to the leg hem, secured by eight hook-and-loop closures; small elastic loops with two buttons sewn at the inside of each leg to allow for the adjustment of the length of the hemmed trouser leg; and a small embroidered logo on the upper right rear panel. A 1.5 inch-wide piece of striped knit fabric is sewn along the outer edge of the front sides of the garment along the length of the garment to hide the stitching of the loop closures in place and to provide decorative effect. Two buttons are sewn onto each side of the inner rear waistband, and an elastic strip with a series of buttonholes is threaded through the inner rear waistband to allow adjustment of the waistband. The outer sides of the waistband feature self-fabric flaps attached to hook-and-loop closures; however, this feature does not serve to adjust the waistband.
You state that the subject garment is designed for use by men confined to a wheelchair on a permanent basis. While you do not state it, the apparent life activity for which the “Dual Side Opening Seated Pant” is “specially designed” is the ability to dress oneself.
Whether the garment at issue, the “Dual Side Opening Seated Pant” is eligible for duty-free treatment under subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, as an article specially designed or adapted for the handicapped.
LAW AND ANALYSIS:
You propose that the garment, the “Dual Side Opening Seated Pant,” is classified under subheading 6203.42.4516, HTSUS, which provides for: “Men’s or boys' suits, ensembles, suit-type jackets, blazers, trousers, bib and brace overalls, breeches and shorts (other than swimwear): Trousers, bib and brace overalls, breeches and shorts: Of cotton: Other: Other: Other: Other: Men’s trousers and breeches: Other.” We agree.
Regarding subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, it provides for:
articles specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons; parts and accessories (except parts and accessories of braces and artificial limb prosthetics) that are specially designed or adapted for use in the foregoing articles . . . Other.
Subheading 9817.00.96 excludes “(i) articles for acute or transient disability; (ii) spectacles, dentures, and cosmetic articles for individuals not substantially disabled; (iii) therapeutic and diagnostic articles; or, (iv) medicine or drugs.” U.S. Note 4(b), Subchapter XVII, Chapter 98, HTSUS.
Accordingly, eligibility within subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, depends on whether the article in question is “specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the blind or physically and mentally handicapped persons,” and whether it falls within any of the enumerated exclusions. See subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS; U.S. Note 4(b), Subchapter XVII, Chapter 98, HTSUS. Note 4(a) to Chapter 98, HTSUS, provides:
(a) For purposes of subheadings 9817.00.92, 9817.00.94 and 9817.00.96, the
term “blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons” includes any person suffering from a permanent or chronic physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working.
U.S. Note 4(a), Subchapter XVII, Chapter 98, HTSUS. This list of exemplar activities indicates that the term “handicapped persons” is to be liberally construed so as to encompass a wide range of conditions, provided the condition substantially interferes with a person’s ability to perform an essential daily task. While the HTSUS and subchapter notes do not provide a proper definition of “substantial” limitation, the inclusion of the word “substantially” denotes that the limitation must be “considerable in amount” or “to a large degree.”
In the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision in Sigvaris, Inc. v. United States, 899 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2018), the court found that the Court of International Trade reached the correct conclusion in finding the merchandise at issue therein, compression stockings, not eligible for subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, treatment, but the court disagreed with the lower court’s analysis. The court found that the Court of International Trade looked to the condition or disorder and whether it is a handicap. The court stated:
The plain language of the heading focuses the inquiry on the “persons” for whose use and benefit the articles are “specially designed,” and not on any disorder that may incidentally afflict persons who use the subject merchandise.
* * *
. . . we must ask first, “for whose, if anyone’s, use and benefit is the article specially designed,” and then, “are those persons physically handicapped?”
The language of subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, states that the provision provides for “articles specially designed or adapted” for the use or benefit of the physically handicapped. The design and construction of an article may be indicative of whether it is specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the handicapped. The HTSUS does not establish a clear definition of what constitutes “specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit” of handicapped persons. In the absence of a clear definition, the Court of the International Trade stated that it may rely upon its own understanding of the terms or consult dictionaries and other reliable information. See Danze, Inc. v. United States, Slip Op. 18-69 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2018). Moreover, in analyzing this same provision in Sigvaris v. United States, the Court of International Trade construed these operative words as follows:
The term “specially” is synonymous with “particularly,” which is defined as “to an extent greater than in other cases or towards others.” [Webster’s] at 1647, 2186
. . . The dictionary definition for “designed” is something that is “done, performed, or made with purpose and intent often despite an appearance of being accidental, spontaneous, or natural.” [Webster’s] at 612 . . . .
See Sigvaris, 227 F. Supp. 3d at 1336. See also, Sigvaris, Inc. v. United States, 899 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2018), wherein the court cited the definitions relied upon by the Court of International Trade in Sigvaris, in concluding that “articles specially designed for handicapped persons must be made with the specific purpose and intent to be used by or benefit handicapped persons rather than the general public.” See Sigvaris, 899 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2018). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit refined this requirement which it found to be incomplete. The court concluded that:
to be “specially designed,” the subject merchandise must be intended for the use or benefit of a specific class of persons to an extent greater than for the use or benefit of others.
Sigvaris, 899 F.3d 1308.
Finally, the legislative history further aids our analysis of these terms as used in subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS. The Senate stated in its Report that one of the goals of this law was to benefit the handicapped and show U.S. support for the rights of the handicapped. The Senate stated, in relevant part:
By providing for duty-free treatment of articles specially adapted for the blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons, the committee does not intend that an insignificant adaptation would result in duty-free treatment for an entire relatively expensive article. Otherwise, the special tariff category will create incentives for commercially motivated tariff-avoidance schemes and pre-import and post-entry manipulation. Rather, the committee intends that, in order for an entire modified article to be accorded duty-free treatment, the modification or adaptation must be significant, so as clearly to render the article for use by handicapped persons.
S. Rep. No. 97 564, 97th Cong. 2nd Sess. (1982). The Senate was concerned that persons would misuse this tariff provision to avoid paying duties on expensive products. Similarly, in Danze v. United States, the court looked to the legislative history and noted that its interpretation of the terms “specially” and “designed” in Sigvaris comported with the legislative intent behind subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, that any modification or adaptation be “significant.”
CBP has recognized several factors to be utilized and weighed against each other on a case-by-case basis when determining whether a particular product is “specially designed or adapted” for the benefit or use of handicapped persons. See U.S. Customs Serv. Implementation of the Duty-Free Provisions of the Nairobi Protocol, Annex E, to the Florence Agreement, T.D. 92-77, 26 Cust. B. & Dec. 240, 241 (1992) (“Implementation of the Nairobi Protocol”) at 243-244. These factors include: (1) the physical properties of the article itself (i.e., whether the article is easily distinguishable by properties of the design, form, and the corresponding use specific to this unique design, from articles useful to non-handicapped persons); (2) whether any characteristics are present that create a substantial probability of use by the chronically handicapped so that the article is easily distinguishable from articles useful to the general public and any use thereof by the general public is so improbable that it would be fugitive; (3) whether articles are imported by manufacturers or distributors recognized or proven to be involved in this class or kind of articles for the handicapped; (4) whether the articles are sold in specialty stores which serve handicapped individuals; and, (5) whether the condition of the articles at the time of importation indicates that these articles are for the handicapped. See also Danze, Inc. v. United States, Slip Op. 18-69 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2018); Sigvaris, Inc. v. United States, 227 F.Supp.3d 1327 (Ct. Int’l Trade, 2017), aff’d, 899 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2018). The court in Sigvaris, 899 F.3d. 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2018), found that “[t]hese factors aid in assessing whether the subject merchandise is intended for the use or benefit of a specific class of persons to a greater extent than for the use or benefit of others.” The court adopted these factors into its analysis.
Looking to the court’s analysis in Sigvaris, 899 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2018), we must first examine for whose use and benefit the “Dual Side Opening Seated Pant” is “specially designed,” and whether such persons are physically handicapped. In other words, we must consider whether such persons are suffering from a permanent or chronic physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. In this case, the life activity for which the “Dual Side Opening Seated Pant” is “specially designed” is the ability to dress oneself.
With regard to the first two factors to consider in determining whether an article is “specially designed,” i.e., the physical properties of the article and any characteristics of the article that easily distinguish it from articles useful to the general public, we find the “Dual Side Opening Seated Pant” does possess design features that distinguish it from typical trousers useful to the general public. The trouser is constructed with a lower rise in the front to reduce fabric bunching and a higher rise in the back. This construction feature combined with the full side openings secured by hook and loop closures along the entire length of the garment; lack of pockets on the seat back of the garment; an adjustable waistband by means of an elastic strip and buttons constructed into the back portion of the waistband (a feature normally not seen in adult men’s garments worn by the general public); and the adjustability of the legs’ length with the button and loop, are indicative that the garment has been specially designed and adapted for the use of a handicapped individual. Further, while each individual design adaptation taken alone may not appear significant, when combined as they are in this garment, we believe the totality of the adaptions are significant. See Danze, Inc. v. United States, Slip Op. 18-69 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2018), wherein the court stated that “[a]ny adaptation or modification to an article to render it for use or benefit by handicapped persons must be significant.”
As to the remaining factors we consider in determining whether an article qualifies as “specially designed or adapted,” the “Dual Side Opening Pant” is imported and sold by PVH, an entity that has established itself as one of the largest apparel companies in the world. PVH is not generally recognized as a distributor of wearing apparel for the chronically disabled. See Headquarters Ruling Letter (HQ) H292642, dated June 29, 2018; HQ H292346, dated June 29, 2018; and HQ H300625, dated February 27, 2019. However, this is but one factor to consider. As to whether the garment is sold in specialty stores which serve handicapped individuals, while this particular garment is not, as it is sold by PVH, we found garments sharing the design features that we believe are indicative that the garment has been specially designed and adapted for the use of a handicapped individual being sold by such specialty stores. Garments sold on websites directed at the disabled community as pants or trousers for wheelchair use include features, such as, the lower front rise and higher back rise, and full length of the garment side openings. Finally, as the garments, in their condition at importation, have the physical features and characteristics discussed herein, we believe that those features combined are indicative that the “Dual Side Opening Pant” is an article for the handicapped.
Finally, subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, does not cover articles for acute or transient disability. See U.S. Note 4(b), Subchapter XVII, Chapter 98, HTSUS. Based upon the nature of the garment and the expense in purchasing it, we believe it is unlikely that an individual with a transient or acute disability would invest in a garment such as the one at issue.
The garment at issue, the “Dual Side Opening Pant”, is classifiable under subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, as an “article[ ] specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons . . . other.” The duty rate for articles classified under subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS, is Free.
A copy of this ruling letter should be attached to the entry documents filed at the time the goods are entered. If the documents have been filed without a copy of this ruling, it should be brought to the attention of the CBP officer handling the transaction.
Monika R. Brenner, Chief
Valuation and Special Programs Branch