On December 16, 2009, the CIT issued its decision in Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. United States in which Hartford Fire Insurance Company (Hartford) sought a declaration that its bonds were unenforceable. Hartford filed this action in response to CBP’s demand for payment of antidumping duties under the bonds, which CBP issued after it was unable to recover antidumping duties from the importer of record. The CIT ultimately dismissed the challenge for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Hartford sought to invoke the CIT’s jurisdiction under 28 USC § 1581(i), which grants the CIT exclusive residual jurisdiction over certain civil actions against the United States not covered by subsections 1581(a) through (h). The US Government sought dismissal, arguing that the proper mechanism to challenge CBP’s charge was by protest, the denial of which protest could have been reviewed by the CIT under subsection 1581(a). In support of its claim that jurisdiction was proper under subsection 1581(i), Hartford made two arguments. First, Hartford claimed that it learned of the bases for its present causes of action after the period for protesting CBP’s demand for payment on its bonds had already expired. Therefore, it could not have availed itself of the protest remedy, and jurisdiction under 1581(i) was appropriate. Second, Hartford argued that its claim should be conceived not as the protest of a charge that could have been brought under subsection 1581(a), but rather as a broader contractual claim that the bonds were unenforceable as a result of CBP’s material misrepresentations regarding the importer’s ability to pay, which properly belonged under subsection 1581(i). The CIT agreed with the Government, finding that jurisdiction would have been available pursuant to 28 USC § 1581(a) if Hartford had filed a timely protest with CBP and, thus, jurisdiction under 28 USC § 1581(i) was precluded by Hartford’s failure to utilize the administrative protest remedy available to it. The CIT reasoned that the “true nature” of Hartford’s claim was a challenge to the CBP’s charge, and that Hartford’s allegations as to the unenforceability of the bonds merely constituted a theory of defense upon which CBP could have granted the relief of cancelling that charge in response to a timely protest.