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CIT Partially Sides With CBP in Classification Spat on Frozen Fruit Mixtures

Fourteen types of frozen fruit mixtures, five of which contain vegetable ingredients, should be classified under Harmonized Tariff Schedule subheading 0811.90.80 as "other" frozen fruits, dutiable at 14.5%, the Court of International Trade ruled. Judge Stephen Vaden said the merchandise is properly classified under heading 0811 since the term "Fruit ... frozen" describes these goods in whole.

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The suit concerns the frozen fruit mixture imports from Canada entered in 2018. The importer, Nature's Touch Frozen Foods, vied for classification under subheading 2106.90.98 as “[f]ood preparations not otherwise specified or included," while CBP liquidated the goods under different eight-digit provisions under heading 0811. Heading 2106 is a basket provision, which may only be used if there is no other heading that covers the goods more specifically.

Vaden first addressed whether the goods are more specifically described under heading 0811 as “Fruit . . . frozen," coming away with the conclusion that they are. The judge said that this term "describes these products in whole" since the common meaning of "fruit" includes mixed fruit, "as in the phrase 'a bowl of fruit' -- so that it is unnecessary for the heading to enumerate fruit mixtures in order to cover them."

Nature's Touch claimed the term "fruit" as used in the heading should be found to refer only to individual types of fruit and read in light of its subheadings, which don't specifically provide for mixtures. The government said that heading 0811 is an eo nomine provision that is interpreted to include all forms of a given product, "even improved forms," therefore covering the fruit mixtures at issue here. Vaden agreed, finding Nature's Touch's claims to be "improper because they require inferring from the lack of a subheading enumerating mixtures within 0811 that the heading does not cover mixtures, in violation of binding precedent that subheadings may not be considered until after the proper heading is chosen."

Vaden then turned to the five of the 14 product types that contain vegetable products, analyzing the different headings according to GR1. The judge said that the term “Fruit . . . frozen" does not cover these products since they have features "substantially in excess of those within the common meaning of the term." Vaden similarly rejected the importer's claim for heading 2106, finding that food preparations "must undergo processing additional to what is already inherent to the term 'food' to avoid rendering 'preparations' mere surplusage."

Vaden added that cutting, freezing and combining fruits and vegetables is insufficient to turn the ingredients into food preparations because the HTS excludes mixtures of cut fruits and vegetables from the heading "if they are consumed as such" and since both case law and the HTS "distinguish between freezing and preparation." This left the judge to return to GRI 3(b) to find the proper home for the fruit and vegetable mixtures, ruling that they fit under heading 0811 since "the fruit content predominates and supplies the essential character of these mixtures."

Once establishing heading 0811 as the proper designation, Vaden then ruled that subheading 0811.90.80 would be the proper classification for all 14 types of the mixtures under GRI 1. The judge rejected claims from both Nature's Touch and the government that this subheading excludes mixtures since it does not explicitly list them, instead finding that the meaning of "Other" describes the goods as they cannot be claimed in whole by the other subheadings.

"In seeking to require that basket subheadings specifically enumerate mixtures in order to include them, the Government adopts an interpretive method at odds with both the plain meaning of 'Other' and with its own position that such enumeration is unnecessary for heading 0811 to cover mixtures," the opinion said. "The Court declines the parties’ invitation to read exclusions into tariff provisions that are absent from their text or to apply different interpretative rules when construing subheadings rather than headings."

Vaden said siding fully with the government or Nature's Touch would require the court to discard principles inherent in the General Rules of Interpretation and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit precedent "so as to engage in a results-oriented inquiry." As a result, the judge ordered that CBP reclassify all the merchandise but to only reliquidate the types of the frozen fruit mixtures that were not liquidated under subheading 0811.90.80.

(Nature's Touch Frozen Foods (West) v. U.S., Slip Op. 23-82, CIT # 20-00131, dated 05/26/23; Judge: Stephen Vaden; Attorneys: John Peterson of Neville Peterson for plaintiff Nature's Touch Frozen Foods (West); Jamie Shookman for defendant U.S. government)