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HQ 086146

March 14, 1991

CLA-2 CO:R:C:T 086146 CMR


TARIFF NO.: 9021.19.8000

Jeffrey Meeks, Esq.
Adduci, Mastriani, Meeks & Schill
330 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10017

RE: Classification of certain compression stockings-- Revocation of NYRL 841156 of June 6, 1989

Dear Mr. Meeks:

This ruling is in response to your submission of November 13, 1989, and subsequent submissions on behalf of your client, Sigvaris, Inc., regarding the classification of certain compression stockings.


In NYRL 841156 of June 6, 1989, a surgical compression stocking was classified in subheading 6115.93.2000, HTSUSA, which provides for panty hose, tights, stockings, socks and other hosiery, including stockings for varicose veins, and footwear without applied soles, knitted or crocheted: other: of synthetic fibers: other. That ruling focused on the use of the subject article for varicose veins.

The sample furnished with the original request, model 503, is a toeless compression stocking made of 70 percent nylon and 30 percent natural rubber. The stockings are knee length and are designed to supply a compression range of 30 to 40 millimeters of mercury. Model 504 was submitted with the request for reconsideration and is essentially identical to model 503 with the exception that it supplies a compression range of 40 to 50 millimeters of mercury. These stockings are generally of heavy gauge, opaque, elasticized knit fabric with either one-way or a two-way stretch. They provide graduated compression and support for the leg. For example, in the case of swelling, the graduated compression of the stockings acts to force fluid out of the affected limb.

These stockings are available by prescription only through medical and surgical supply outlets and a patient must have his/her leg measured by trained personnel at the supply outlet in order to have a proper fit. The stockings are significantly more expensive than support hosiery of the type sold in retail stores.


Are the surgical compression stockings at issue, models 503 and 504, classifiable in heading 6115, HTSUSA, as stockings for varicose veins or, are they classifiable as orthopedic appliances of heading 9021, HTSUSA?


Classification of products under the HTSUSA is governed by the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs). GRI 1 provides that "classification shall be determined according to the terms of the headings and any relative section or chapter notes, provided such headings or notes do no otherwise require, according to [the remaining GRIs taken in order]."

In NYRL 841156, it was concluded that the surgical compression stocking at issue was no more than a compression stocking for the treatment of varicose veins. Based on this conclusion, Note 2(c) of Chapter 61, which excludes from Chapter 61 "orthopaedic appliances, surgical belts, trusses or the like (heading No. 90.21)", was considered inapplicable.

The surgical compression stockings at issue are more than simply compression stockings for the treatment of varicose veins. They are prescribed by physicians for the treatment of venous diseases and other serious conditions such as reversible and irreversible lymphedema and severe post-thrombotic treatment. In the past, the Customs Service has recognized surgical compression stockings as similar to surgical belts and trusses and classified them under a provision for orthopedic appliances, surgical belts, trusses, and similar articles. See, T.D. 76- 133(3). While it is not improper to rely on prior rulings of the Customs Service when seeking to determine the common and commercial meaning of a term when the legal notes and explanatory notes of the HTSUSA fail to provide a definition, the HTSUSA is a new system and therefore, some unavoidable changes in classification of articles will occur. In this case, it is noteworthy that the Customs Service considered these articles similar to surgical belts and trusses. Nonetheless, the Explanatory Notes of the HTSUSA do provide a definition for orthopedic appliances which we cannot ignore.

The Explanatory Notes for heading 9021, in discussing orthopedic appliances, provide, in relevant part:

These are appliances for:

(i) Preventing or correcting bodily deformities; or (ii) Supporting or holding organs following an illness or operation.

They include:

(10) Trusses (inguinal, crural, umbilical, etc., trusses) and rupture appliances.

(11) Appliances for correcting scoliosis and curvature of the spine as well as all medical or surgical corsets and belts (including certain supporting belts) * * *

The Explanatory Notes exclude stockings for varicose veins from heading 9021 and indicate such stockings are classified in Chapter 61. The issue now becomes whether the surgical compression stockings are orthopedic appliances as defined above or are excluded from classification within the heading because they are principally used for the treatment of varicose veins.

It is helpful to have a better understanding of exactly what the term "orthopedic" means. Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary, (The Riverside Publishing Company) at page 830-831, defines orthopedics as "surgical or manipulative treatment of disorders of the skeletal system and associated motor organs." "Orthopedic surgery is the medical specialty that includes the investigation, preservation, restoration and development of the form and function of the extremities, spine and associated structures by medical, surgical and physical methods." Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 16 (William Benton, Pub., 1963), at 937.

In order to render an informed determination on this matter, this office sought out information from qualified members of the medical profession in the area. We were informed by a physician of the Department of Surgery, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, that "while the stockings are used for patients with varicose veins, they are also used in large numbers for patients with post-operative swelling, including orthopedic patients." He likened these stockings to trusses. These stockings "prevent significant swelling and could be determined to prevent deformity."

Another physician contacted by this office, a member of the staff of George Washington University, informed us that these stockings act to prevent the consequences of venous disease. They prevent bodily deformities in regard to venous ulceration and dermatitis.

Additionally, two physicians of the George Washington University Medical Center furnished written replies to specific questions posed by Customs in regard to the principal use of the compression stockings and how they are viewed by members of the medical profession.

Based on the information provided to this office by qualified members of the medical profession, we believe the compression stockings at issue meet the definition of orthopedic appliances set out in the Explanatory Notes for heading 9021. Therefore, they are classifiable as orthopedic appliances of heading 9021, HTSUSA, at this time.

We must advise you that the Customs Cooperation Council passed an amendment to Chapter 90 in July 1989 that will effect the classification of the merchandise at issue in the future. Amendments to the Nomenclature Appended as an Annex to the Convention, International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, accepted pursuant to the CCC recommendation of 5 July 1989. The new Chapter Note, Note 1(b) will go into effect for all contracting parties on January 1, 1992. The new note provides:

Supporting belts or other support articles of textile material, whose intended effect on the organ to be supported or held derives solely from their elasticity (for example, maternity belts, thoracic support bandages, abdominal support bandages, supports for joints or muscles) (Section

As a contracting party, Customs anticipates that the United States will take the necessary legislative action to change the current HTSUSA to include the new Chapter Note as of January 1, 1992. This new note will preclude classification of the compression stockings at issue in heading 9021, HTSUSA. Since the stockings will at that time no longer be classifiable as orthopedic appliances for tariff purposes, Customs will classify the stockings in heading 6115, HTSUSA, which provides for panty hose, tights, stockings, socks and other hosiery, including stockings for varicose veins, and footwear without applied soles, knitted or crocheted.


The compression stockings at issue are classified as orthopedic appliances in subheading 9021.19.8000, HTSUSA, dutiable at 5.8 percent ad valorem.

In order to insure uniformity in Customs classification of this merchandise and eliminate uncertainty, we are revoking NYRL 841156 of June 6, 1989, effective with the date of this letter. However, if after your review of this ruling letter, you disagree with the legal basis for our decision, we invite you to submit any arguments you might have with respect to this matter for our review. Any submission you wish to make should be received within 30 days of the date of this letter.

This notice to you should be considered a revocation of NYRL 841156 under 19 CFR 177.9(d)(1). It is not to be applied retroactively to NYRL 841156 (19 CFR 177.9(d)(2)) and will not, therefore, affect past transactions for the importation of your merchandise under that ruling. However, for the purposes of future transactions in merchandise of this type, NYRL 841156 will not be valid precedent. We recognize that pending transactions may be adversely affected by this revocation in that current contracts for importation arriving at a port subsequent to this decision will be classified pursuant to it. If such a situation arises, you may, at your discretion, notify this office and may apply for relief from the binding effects of this decision as may be warranted by the circumstances. However, please be advised that in some instances involving import restraints, such relief may require separate approvals from other government agencies.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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