United States: Federal Circuit Upholds Constitutionality Of Legislation Overturning Its GPX Decision That Countervailing Duties May Not Be Applied To Non-Market Economies

Last Updated: April 10 2014
Article by John J. Burke

HERE WE GO AGAIN

This blog has been analyzing for more than four years legal disputes over whether the U.S. Department of Commerce ("Commerce") may apply countervailing duties ("CVDs") to imports from non-market economies ("NMEs"), particularly China.  Our first comments were posted October 21, 2009 ("U.S. Court Decision Ought To Change Chinese Thinking "Revised and Expanded").  Since then, we have been following closely the "GPX" line of cases.  The latest development, a ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ("the Federal Circuit") on March 18, 2014, arose as a direct result of GPX, but in a different case, Guangdong Wireking Housewares & Hardware Co., Ltd. v. United States ("Wireking").

SUMMARIZING THE PERTINENT HISTORY

The history of the GPX line of cases is set out by Elliot J. Feldman and John Burke in Testing the Limits Of Trade Law Rationality: The GPX Case and Subsidies in Non-Market Economies which appeared in the American University Law Review in May 2013.  The story began with Commerce's 2006 decision to apply CVDs to China, notwithstanding its contrary administrative practice of more than 20 years.  After several years of administrative and judicial proceedings, the Federal Circuit in December 2011 found that Commerce's application of CVDs to China, while Commerce still treated China as an NME, was contrary to the law as it existed at that time.  The U.S. Congress reacted by enacting new legislation explicitly authorizing Commerce to impose CVDs on imports from NMEs, retroactive to 2006.  The new law also instructed Commerce to reduce the antidumping duties applied to imports from NMEs when antidumping and CVD duties imposed on those goods otherwise would be double-counted. However, the double-counting provision was to apply only to investigations started after March 13, 2012.

GPX International Tire challenged the constitutionality of the new law, contending it (1) retroactively changed the outcome of the GPX case after the Federal Circuit had issued its December 2011 decision, in violation of the ex post facto clause of Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution (holding parties liable to a law that did not exist when they committed the alleged offense); and (2) created a special rule applicable only to GPX and to a few other cases in which Commerce may impose both CVD and antidumping duties on the same merchandise from an NME without attempting to avoid double-counting, thereby violating the Constitution's  equal protection clause (which guarantees all similarly situated parties the same treatment under the law). 

The Federal Circuit dismissed the ex post facto argument in the GPX case because the Court had not yet issued its mandate when Congress enacted the new law.  (The court's decision does not become final until it issues a "mandate."  Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure provides that "[t]he court's mandate must issue 7 days after the time to file a petition for rehearing expires, or 7 days after entry of an order denying a timely petition for panel rehearing, petition for rehearing en banc, or motion for stay of mandate, whichever is later."  Because the U.S. Government petitioned for a rehearing in the GPX case, the Federal Circuit had not yet issued its mandate in that case when the new law came into effect on March 13, 2012.) However, the Federal Circuit concluded that there might be merit in the second Constitutional argument, concerning the equal protection clause, and remanded the case, on May 9, 2012, to the U.S. Court of International Trade ("CIT").  The Federal Circuit instructed the CIT to make "a determination of the constitutionality of the new legislation and for other appropriate proceedings." 

The CIT found, in its GPX VII decision of January 7, 2013, that the new law is constitutional, but remanded the case to Commerce to address certain calculation issues.  Commerce recalculated the CVD rate and issued its redetermination on remand on April 16, 2013.  The CIT then upheld Commerce's remand determination in its GPX VIII decision, issued on October 30, 2013. 

GPX and several other parties appealed to the Federal Circuit on January 2, 2014, filing a brief on March 18, 2014 that challenged the portion of the new law that imposes CVDs on a retroactive basis.  They argued that this retroactivity violates the due process and ex post facto clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

THE IMPERTINENT OUTCOME

Wireking, which involves certain kitchen appliance shelving and racks imported from China, is a case similarly situated with a limited number of other cases caught between the retroactive application of the authorization to apply CVDs to NMEs, and the prospective application of the instruction to cure double-counting.  Guandong Wireking, like GPX, challenged the constitutionality of applying the new law on a retroactive basis, claiming that such retroactivity violates the ex post facto, equal protection and due process clauses (assuring that persons cannot be deprived of property without proper notice and an opportunity to be heard) of the U.S. Constitution. 

On March 12, 2013, the CIT, in Wireking, concluded that, even if the new law were retroactive, it did not violate the ex post facto, due process or equal protection clauses.  Unlike in GPX, there were no other issues to be resolved in Wireking.  Therefore, the constitutionality of the new law was ripe for appeal to the Federal Circuit in Wireking, ahead of GPX.  Guangdong Wireking appealed the ex post facto issue to the Federal Circuit, but abandoned the other constitutional claims.

The Federal Circuit agreed with Guangdong Wireking that the new law is retroactive.  It also reaffirmed that its December 2011 decision in GPX was a correct interpretation of the countervailing duty law as it existed at that time and, consequently, the legislation Congress passed in 2012 represented a change in the law that Congress applied retroactively.

Having decided that the new law is, as Guangdong Wireking complained, retroactive, the Court then needed to decide whether such retroactivity was punitive, or merely remedial.  The retroactive application of criminal statutes and other laws that are punitive is prohibited by the ex post facto clause, but laws that are not punitive may be applied retroactively without violating the U.S. Constitution.

The Federal Circuit found the new law not to be punitive because: (1) Congress' purpose was to modify the civil regulatory scheme, not to impose punishment; (2) the new law does not stray from the remedial nature of trade duties generally; and (3) "Wireking has not shown, let alone by the clearest proof, that the absence of a retrospective double counting provision negates the law's predominantly remedial impact."  Having found that the new law is not punitive, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision that the new law applying CVDs to NMEs on a retroactive basis does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

THERE WILL BE MORE

There will be at least one more chapter in the GPX story.  GPX itself is now back at the Federal Circuit challenging the constitutionality of legislation that GPX claims violates the ex post facto and due process provisions of the Constitution. 

The Federal Circuit's decision in Wireking should doom GPX's ex post facto claim, but Wireking left unresolved whether the new law violates the due process clause.  The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "[n]o person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."  GPX argues that the legislation authorizing CVDs on imports from NMEs is a new tax being applied retroactively without notice to the affected importers and with harsh and oppressive effects deprived it of property without due process of law.  The CIT disagreed with this argument in its GPX VII decision, finding that GPX failed to meet its burden to show that Congress did not have a rational basis for passing the new legislation or that GPX had a vested interest in not having the CVD law applied to its imports.  The Federal Circuit should resolve this issue later this year or early next year in a decision that would become GPX IX.

Were the Federal Circuit to find the law constitutional under the due process clause, the decision may conclude the GPX story.  CVD orders on goods from NMEs would continue to apply, regardless whether investigations began or orders were imposed before or after March 13, 2012.  Were the Federal Circuit to find the law unconstitutional, however, there would be at least one more chapter to write, as GPX and other companies affected by the retroactive application of the new law seek to have those CVD orders revoked based on the Federal Circuit's decision. 

Even were the Federal Circuit to overturn the CIT and agree with GPX that the new law violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution, that decision would apply only to the GPX case and the few other cases in which Commerce applied CVDs to imports from NMEs between November 20, 2006, and March 13, 2012. The due process argument, which is the only question still to be resolved by the Federal Circuit, is limited to the duties imposed as a result of CVD investigations initiated between the two effective dates.  The authority to impose CVDs on cases initiated since March 13, 2012 will remain secure and final under U.S. law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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