The Classification of Human Heads under the HTSUS

Everything from the Neck Down is Just Packaging

September 2019

US Customs and Border Protection never lets anything slip through the cracks, especially at O’Hare International Airport (I fly through O’Hare frequently, so I know).

Apparently, this shipment from 2013, which had arrived just in time for Christmas was a bit strange: 18 human heads. The shipment was held up because the destination was not clearly indicated in the shipping paperwork. We suspect, however, there may be another reason: CBP was unsure of the classification (HTSUS) of the human heads. After all, these cannot be classified as “corpses” for the same reason you cannot classify a table leg as a table (it is incomplete). See General Note 3 of the HTSUS:

General Note 3(e)(i) of the HTSUS provides that, for the purposes of General Note 1, corpses are not goods subject to the provisions of the HTSUS, provided they are “together with their coffins and accompanying flowers” (that last part is important, we are to presume). But these were heads. Not the bodies, just…the…heads. And they were not in a coffin, nor were they accompanied by flowers. As you know, details are important when doing tariff classification, for it is in the details that the truth can be found.  

Where do we exist, if not in our head? It could be argued that the head provides the “essential character” of the person, and that everything from the neck down is just packaging. Then, could General Rule of Interpretation 2(a), be invoked to classify the heads as corpses?  

“Any reference in a heading to an article shall be taken to include a reference to that article incomplete or unfinished, provided that, as entered, the incomplete or unfinished article has the essential character of the complete or finished article.” Though GRI-2(a) references a “heading,” and there is no heading for corpses, we can appeal to the spirit of GRI-2 in exempting the heads from the HTSUS on the grounds that they are, essentially, incomplete corpses without their normally included packaging.

Of course, if we accept the “essential character” argument, then the Italians would have had to throw a few roses into the coolers with the noggins and the dry ice, to meet the terms of the exclusion.

On the other hand (head?), we would likely remember our high school science class which taught us that, taxonomically, humans are part of the Kingdom of Animalia. I’d begin in Chapter 05, and conclude that the most appropriate classification would 0511.99.4070/1.1%: “Animal Products not elsewhere specified or included; dead animals of chapter 1 or 3, unfit for human consumption: Other: Other: Other: Other.”   

Remember: when you do tariff classification, you must pay attention to punctuation.  In the case of heading 0511, the semi-colon after the word “included” means that an animal product does not necessarily have to be from an animal in chapters 1 or 3.

Suggestions have been pouring into O’Meara and Associates for the correct HTSUS of the human heads. Thanks to our loyal readers for the following:

1.              As they are just heads and not complete corpses, they should go under a “parts” provision

2.              Good thing the heads are of Italian origin; otherwise, they would be subject to the Section 301 duties

3.              If they were smiling, how about heading 9505, “Festive articles?”

CBP did rule (HQ H235506) on a shipment (the same?) and concluded that the heads can be considered corpses, and hence exempt from classification under the HTSUS.  We can rest assured that Customs agrees: if the heads are corpses, then everything from the neck down is just packaging.

File under Commercial Invoice Requirements (Description), Essential Character, Classification, Packaging, and of course Heads.

Update April 2022

Boxed human heads have a way of making the news, as evidenced by a recent and unrelated theft in Denver in March 2022, of a box of human heads from inside a truck – the thieves also stole a dolly, because hey, free dolly. These heads were marked “Exempt Human Specimen.” We can argue that “exempt” meant exempt from entry because of the previous shipment and ruling from CBP.

Everything from the neck down is just packaging, my friends.

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