Blanket Ruling: Snuggies Are Not Apparel

unknown-2Much of law can be dry and mundane.  However, there are moments when the law reaches a transcendent truth.  There was the acceptance of war crimes in the Nuremberg trials.  The recognition that separate is not equal in Brown.  This week another milestone has been reached with a decision by Judge Mark Barnett of the United States Court of International Trade.  Barnett has ruled that Snuggies are blankets and not apparel.  The case is Allstar Mktg. Grp., LLC v. United States , Ct. Int’l Trade, 13-00395, 2/10/17.

The Justice Department argued that Snuggies are apparel and thus subject to higher taxes. The difference is considerable.  If the Snuggie is apparel, the duty is 14.9 percent as opposed to 8.5 percent for blankets.   The federal government wanted that added  argued that the Snuggie is analogous to priestly vestments or scholastic robes. Those robes have wide sleeves and are loosely fitting.  Barnett disagreed and based his distinction on the fact that the snuggle opens in the back.  He also noted that Snuggies are packaged as “The Blanket With Sleeves!,” he said, and depicts consumers “in the types of situations one might use a blanket; for example, while seated or reclining on a couch or bed, or outside cheering a sports team.”  He therefore ruled against the Customs and Border Protection.

Of course, other advertisements show people wearing their Snuggies out and about town:

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Nevertheless, the Court pointed out three key distinctions:

First, as to its physical characteristics and features, the Snuggie® consists of a 71-by-54 inch rectangular piece of polyester fleece knit fabric, with 28.5 inch sleeves attached to the front. . . . There is no closure, and it is open in the back. Pl.’s SOF ¶ 28; Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s SOF ¶ 28. In camera inspection of the physical sample reveals a soft, long, loose-fitting article, measuring almost six feet by 4.5 feet, worn on the front, with long, loose sleeves. See Trans-Atlantic Co. v. United States60 C.C.P.A. 100 , 102-03 , 471 F.2d 1397 , 1398 (1973) (viewing a sample of the subject import before concluding that it is covered by an eo nomine provision for hinges) (“the sample of the imported merchandise . . . is itself a potent witness”). Defendant contends the “one size fits all” nature of the Snuggie® supports classifying it as a garment because “fit” is “characteristic of a specification for garments.” Def.’s XMSJ at 16. However, “fit” in the context of “one size fits all” is a misnomer, and merely conveys single size availability. Notwithstanding the presence of the loose-fitting sleeves, there is nothing “fitted” about the Snuggie®.The Snuggie®’s physical characteristics and features, such as its dimensions and lack of rear closure, do not resemble a “normal article of apparel,” or an article “ordinarily worn” in any “commonplace . . . way.”

Second, relevant to design and intended use, the Snuggie® was inspired by the “Slanket®” and the “Freedom Blanket,” two products that are marketed as blankets. Pl.’s SOF ¶ 10; Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s SOF ¶ 10. As discussed above, inspection of the physical sample shows that the Snuggie® was designed (and, thus, intended) to be loosely worn as an outer layer roughly covering the front of the user to provide warmth. Compl., Ex. B. The Snuggie® was not designed and was not intended to be used as a “normal article of apparel” classifiable as a garment.

Finally, as to sales and marketing, Allstar referred to the Snuggie® as a blanket, not apparel, in discussions with the foreign vendor of the Snuggie®, and in purchase orders, specifications, and commercial and retail invoices. Additionally, Allstar obtained trademark protection to use the mark “Snuggie®” on fleece blankets and throws. Pl.’s SOF ¶ 14; Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s SOF ¶ 14. The Snuggie® is sold in the “bedding, housewares, general merchandise, ‘impulse buy,’ or ‘as-seen-on-TV’ departments of retail stores,” not in the apparel department. Pl.’s SOF ¶¶ 23-24; Def.’s Resp. to Pl.’s SOF ¶¶ 23-24. Defendant contends that Allstar’s emphasis on the sleeves in marketing materials supports garment classification. Def.’s XMSJ at 16. However, retail packaging and television advertising consistently describe the Snuggie®, inter alia, as a blanket with sleeves. The marketing materials depict people using the Snuggie® as a warm cover, as one might use a blanket, albeit one held in place and permitting greater use of hands with the addition of the sleeves. See generally Compl., Ex. B; Def.’s Ex. D.

In sum, after considering the terms of the headings, relevant Section or Chapter Notes, Explanatory Notes, and the common commercial meaning of garment as stated in lexicographic sources and case law, the court finds the Snuggie® is not classifiable under subheading 6114.30.30. The court turns to whether the Snuggie® is classifiable under subheading 6301.40.00.

So there you have it.  Of course, there remains that unanswered question of how anyone would allow themselves to be seen anywhere in a Snuggie . . . regardless of its legal designation.

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Here is the opinion: Snuggie Opinion

 

12 thoughts on “Blanket Ruling: Snuggies Are Not Apparel

  1. If you’re determined, you can turn ANYTHING into apparel. I remember this one trend-setting co-ed sporting a mattress this one time…

  2. Another ruling on the weirdness of the US tax system. There have been others: Is a steam shovel a vehicle for purpose of taxation? Is a typewriter a musical instrument? This is bureaucracy, don’t look for sense in it.

  3. I was shocked that Jeff Sessions apparently didn’t know about the great Snuggies (R) debate within the legal community when he was asked about it during his confirmation hearings. I cringed when he suggested that Snuggies (R) might be apparel because they could be worn while hunting grizzly bears. Sheesh, everyone knows grizzlies hate pink!

  4. It’s embarrassing for our justice department to go after this case over a few dimes. Did anyone do a cost benefit analysis? Certainly, there are more sane cases to occupy the justice department’s time?

  5. A foot sock is not a condom. But there is a poem, sometimes sang, from the fifties. It goes like this:

    In days of old when knights were bold
    And rubbers weren’t invented.
    They tied a sock around the cock..
    And babies were prevented.

    This little poem was printed on a piece of paper, covered with clear plastic and posted under the condom machine at the men’s bathroom in our Catholic church here in NC. There was another sig on the door which I might get to later.
    Recently the condom machine would not accept quarters anymore and was broke for a week or so.
    Then there was a sign on the slot for the quarters which said: “Broken”. Some good samaratan came along and put a nail on the panel right next to the first sign and then hung a sock on the sign. Then a new little tag was taped next to the sock. “Clean and not yet used. It should be snug for most men. You are advised by Wade Roe to try it.”

    Of course the name Wade Roe is a play on words. The Church is against Roe vs. Wade.

    I should note that there was a Priest at the Church who was accused of knocking up one of the nuns who worked at the school. He is not in France. We call him Father Sock. We call the nun Sister Sock It To Me.

    I think of Nixon and Saturday Night Live on that one.

    Recently the bathroom issue there at the church has become part of the heated North Carolina political issue. Someone put a sign on the Mens Room which says: “Dongs Only”. Then they put one on the Women’s Room which says: “No Dongs Allowed”.

    So the snuggie issue makes some sense. I agree with the decision. Sometimes things look like they have one intended purpose when they are manufactured. But then the items is really worn for a different purpose.

    Stay warm out there.

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