On March 26, 2018, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) dismissed U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) attempt to collect $4.5 million in penalties against a Canadian textile company, Tricots Liesse 1983, Inc. (Tricots). U.S. v. Aegis Security Insurance Co. and Tricots Liesse 1983 Inc., Slip. Op. 18-29.
Tricots produces quality knit fabrics and sells its fabrics to high-end U.S. swim and active wear producers. Fabric imports made from NAFTA yarn are duty free under the rules of origin (ROO) and fabric imports made from non-NATA yarn are duty free if the Canadian government issues Tariff Preference Level (TPL) certifications under the TPL quota program. Tricots attempted to correct certain past NAFTA ROO claims by filing a disclosure with CBP and submitting TPL certificates issued by Canada. However, CBP rejected Tricots’ disclosure and corrections saying the TPL certifications were untimely. CBP issued Tricots an administrative penalty and duty demand, but did not provide Tricots an opportunity for an oral hearing during the administrative proceedings as required by statute. After CBP filed suit against Tricots in the CIT to collect the $4.5 penalty and duties, Tricots filed a motion to dismiss the penalty claims because CBP failed to exhaust administrative remedies.
The CIT held that “[t]he facts demonstrate that, despite Tricots’ efforts, Customs did not follow the statutory injunction to provide the company with a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to make oral representations ‘seeking remission or mitigation of the monetary penalty’ following issuance of the notice of penalty, and thus did not provide Tricots with the statutorily required opportunity to be heard.” The court added, “Accordingly, Customs failed to perfect its penalty claim and thus is barred from bringing it.” The CIT found that the hearing was necessary before the government could bring its penalty claims in the CIT. The court rejected CBP’s arguments that Tricots failed to show it suffered “substantial prejudice” because of the government’s failure to hold a meeting where Tricots could make its arguments in person. Now the court must decide if it should also dismiss CBP’s claims for duties.
This decision should help importers by ensuring that they receive a full and fair administrative hearing before CBP imposes a penalty.
Tricots is represented by Crowell & Moring attorneys John Brew, Frances Hadfield and Ade Johnson.