CBPSeizuresU.S.Customs

U.S. Customs Seized My Merchandise: Now What?

posted by Customs & International Trade Law Blog November 3, 2009 46 Comments

cbp-inspection-at-dhlEvery day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the airports, seaports, and other border crossings, stop, examine, detain, and seize merchandise from both travelers and commercial cargo importers and exporters.  The process of getting back your property can be a harrowing one fraught with bureaucratic delays.  There is, fortunately, a set of rules that U.S. Customs must follow, and knowing those rules will give you an advantage.

Customs officers may examine cargo to look for illegal drugs, counterfeit merchandise, merchandise from a country with which the U.S. has an embargo, food or medical devices not approved by the FDA, or motorcycles not approved by the EPA, just to name a few examples. 

While the cargo is being held by U.S. Customs, it is transferred to a Centralized Examination Station (CES) where the cargo is separated and intensively examined by Customs officers.  U.S. Customs has 35 days from the date of arrival of the cargo in the United States to detain the merchandise for examination.  See 19 CFR 151.16.  During that period of time, it is the obligation of U.S. Customs to advise the importer, its customs broker, and/or customs attorney with an explanation for the detention.  A written Detention Notice stating the specific reason for the detention should be issued by the U.S. Customs officer.

After 35 days, the Customs Regulations require that the cargo must be seized or released.   Unfortunately, this is too often ignored.  The problem is that U.S. Customs must rely upon other Federal agencies to give it advice whether a violation has occurred. For example, if a shipment of  motorcycles is imported from China, but Customs suspects that they may not satisfy the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) safety requirements, digital photographs and paperwork must be sent to EPA officials in Washington, D.C. for review and recommendation.  The communication is not directly from the front line U.S. Customs officer to the EPA attorney.  Instead, it will go through the chain of command which typically involves 5 sets of eyes and hands going up the chain and then down the chain.  35 days pass quickly with so many people handing off to each other.  Hence, despite the 35 day requirement, a determination to release or seize may not be made for 60 or more days after being detained by Customs.  Getting frustrated with or repeatedly calling a particular U.S. Customs officer may not be helpful as s/he may also be waiting for an answer from someone else.  Knowing who to call and when is the key to successfully getting cargo released.

The customs attorney hired to assist the importer needs to know the internal procedures of U.S. Customs as well as the laws and regulations it enforces to identify who and when to speak to a Customs officer or other U.S. Government official.  Getting involved early in the detention process is one of the best ways to assist Customs in identifying whether or not there is a violation, and avoiding a seizure or other negative action by U.S. Customs.   For example, if the product is a suspected counterfeit, showing an Import Specialist the license from Bluetooth or Apple could avoid a lengthy, expensive, and totally unnecessary seizure process with U.S. Customs.   Getting a Licensing Officer from the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. to speak directly with the U.S. Customs officer on the Anti-Terrorism Trade Enforcement Team (AT-TET) to clarify any suspected discrepancy in the terms of the export license could avoid an unnecessary seizure.

If a violation does occur, the merchandise will be seized by U.S. Customs. The merchandise is then transported by U.S. Customs from the CES to a Seized Property warehouse.  The merchandise will remain in the warehouse until it is authorized to be released by Customs, and the warehouse is paid its storage fees.

Once the merchandise is seized, the file is forwarded by the U.S. Customs officer to the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures Office (FP&F).  The FP&F paralegal reviews the file and prepares a formal, written Seizure Notice. The Seizure Notice is mailed to the alleged violator.  My standard operating procedure is to notify FP&F of my representation of an importer or exporter whose goods have been seized by Customs so that the Seizure Notice is forwarded to me directly. The Seizure Notice will identify what and where the cargo was seized, as well as the legal basis for the seizure. See 19 CFR 162.31(b)

Once a Seizure Notice is received, the “violator” is provided 30 days to file a Petition with Customs.  The Petition is the means by which the owner of the cargo may seek to persuade U.S. Customs to release the seized shipment.  The Petition may argue that a violation did not really occur, or that there was a violation, however, there were mitigating factors in favor of releasing the cargo.  The Petition should follow the guidelines set forth by U.S. Customs in 19 CFR Part 171.  U.S. Customs also published a very helpful handbook about seizure case processing.

Eventually, U.S. Customs will either grant and release the seized merchandise, or deny the Petition and not release the seized merchandise.  A Supplemental Petition or Offer in Compromise may then be submitted to U.S. Customs.

In summary, the administrative petition process with U.S. Customs can be a long one, however, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

1) Be as careful as possible to be sure imported merchandise complies with all relevant laws and regulations applicable to the particular product;

2) If U.S. Customs detains your products, contact a knowledgeable customs attorney or customs broker to actively demonstrate that there is no violation;  and

3) If U.S. Customs seizes your products, make sure your customs attorney knows the policies, procedures, and practices of U.S. Customs to pursue the release of the merchandise.

For more information about the seizure process, a video describing the process, and a REAL copy of a SEIZURE NOTICE, click HERE.

Contact us at info@diaztradelaw.com today to discuss your specific case.

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46 Comments

Al January 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Hello,
A shipment from China was seized by the US Customs. I know the seizure was not correct, however, in order to correct the issue takes longer than my business can effort. After i spoke with the manufacturer in China and the US Customs, i decided to forfeit the equipment (not a large quantity) in order to proceed with the next shipment. My concern is if we forfeit the shipment, will that have any negative effect on the future of the company?

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:13 pm

It absolutely can. You will likely experience “intensive examinations” for the next 5 or so shipments. This is why “Pre-Compliance” is so important. See more here: https://youtu.be/NehTmLB_0v0

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kennedy February 3, 2012 at 12:06 am

hello

what if my seized cargo has a net value of $11,000.00 will CBP still issue a fine for the MSRP of the forfeited merchandise ?

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:14 pm

You’re value is not what CBP looks at. They have their own appraisers. CBP will calculate the MSRP – the sales price. If you purchase a purse for $1 but, it sells at retail for $1000, the penalty is $1000 X how many purses you imported.

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chris March 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi,

we are international traders of scrap metals. we export scrap metal commodities to asia from US region. Recently, our containers were held by US customs because it is brass shell casings. what they are stating is that they are waiting for final determination from US state DEPT. if our containers gets seized by US customs, what should we do from this point and on?? I know other scrap traders are having same problems with US customs for brass shell casings. can you advise us what should be done from here??

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:15 pm

You very much need export compliance training. Check out: http://diaztradelaw.com/exporting/ for more information.

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Joe June 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm

I have received a seizure letter from the CBP. It says the forfeiture value is $2040. It also syas I can sign the attached form so the merchandise will be forfeited immediately and I wil not receive any further mail from them. If I sign it, does that mean I admit quilt? I see in your previous answers that they usaully give fines if the value is over $20,000. Does it mean that I am safe? Thanks.

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:19 pm

A penalty may still occur – unfortunately, no one is ever “safe” – it’s a determination Customs will make if the value makes sense for them to pursue. My suggestion is to file a Petition with your legal arguments and any mitigating factors. Otherwise, Customs will not have your side of the story in their system. I’ve also seen IPR seizure impact personal international travel.

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Yusuf Yildiz June 13, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Hi,

My goods are seized due to violation of infringements. The goods are computer keyboards and because of having windows logo flag on one of the keyboard button,they seized it. The invoice value is $16,300 however the seizure notice says, the MSRP is $29,571. Now, in the seizure letter US Customs says “Alternatively, you may elect to abandon seized merchandise and it will be forfeited to the government. If you choose to waive such notice, you will receive no further mail from this office concerning the disposition of this merchandise. ” So, if I volunteer to abandonment the cargo and choose to waive the goods to US Government, will I still be fined ? In the letter, it says “in addition to forfeiture, you maybe be liable for penalty equal to MSRP value. Now, I am confused. They say, we will close the case if I waive my rights on the seized goods but also says, I may be liable for penalty after forfeiture.

Thank you in advance

Jen Diaz
jdiaz@becker-poliakoff.com

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:18 pm

A penalty is likely in your case. My suggestion is to file a Petition with your legal arguments and any mitigating factors. Otherwise, Customs will not have your side of the story in their system. I’ve also seen IPR seizure impact personal international travel.

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David June 27, 2012 at 11:31 am

I have filed a supplemental petition. I have not heard back from customs. How long does customs have to respond or what is a reasonable time frame for customs to make a ruling on the supplemental petition? Thank You.

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Good question. There is NO timeframe for Customs to respond.

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Ally November 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Hello, we have two shippments shipped from Taiwan to USA have been seizured by USA customs and DHL/Fedex said that the reason might be IPR issue.It has been around 60days since the first seizured date the consignee still has not receive any notice from USA custom.Normally how many days we have to wait ?
We want to help the consignee prove that the goods are genuine, what can we do? Please help thanks

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Jen Diaz January 3, 2013 at 6:08 pm

David, Supplemental Petitions take MANY months for CBP to respond to (unfortunately). I work with clients and CBP to help expedite the process as much as possible.

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Jeffry smith August 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm

hello,

I have some itmes that sent back to shipper from HONG KONG and no reason given. DHL just indicated that customs forced them to send it back. My question is will customs flag my address and continue to do this… Im confused because I thought if they felt like it was counterfeit wouldnt they keep the merchandise? if they are sending it back it must be a paperwork issue im assuming.

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ali August 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

Homeland security came to my front door to ask me about a package that was seized in my name coming from China. I told them I knew nothing about it and never ordered anything. They kept trying to get me to confess that it was mine and I kept telling them I knew nothing about any package. They told me they would be in touch and they left. Should I be worried?

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ariel March 25, 2016 at 1:21 am

If I sign the letter to forfeit the merchandise will I still be admitting to ownership of goods, and will I have to pay a penalty fee?

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Jennifer Diaz March 25, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Ariel, it depends on the rationale for seizure. For example, in a trademark infringement case, if the alleged violation was infringement of a trademark recorded with Customs – then a penalty after the conclusion of the seizure case is likely. Real answer is it depends, which is why you should spend the time and money to get experienced counsel to assist you.

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Diego April 27, 2016 at 4:05 pm

how I get official notice from customs that my package was seized as I need evidence to show to the seller. thank you

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Jennifer Diaz April 27, 2016 at 4:41 pm

Can take Customs (depending on port and how busy they are) a month or so to get a seizure notice out to you. I typically get involved to help expedite the process. If you would like assistance, contact us at info@diaztradelaw.com.

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dothney May 23, 2016 at 3:54 am

In a seizure case, is the government seeks the transfer of the title to the property from the owner to the state as a punishment to the property?? I’m confused. Hope for your quick response thankyou

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Jennifer Diaz November 11, 2016 at 4:19 pm

You’ve got it, in a seizure case – you can go through the administrative petition process (my personal preference). If you lose, the merchandise is forfeited and either sold at auction or destroyed. If you still have questions after reviewing our blog post, please schedule a consultation with us by emailing info@diaztradelaw.com.

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Amber July 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Hello, I received a letter from CBP stating drugs being sent to my address falsely manifested as craft supplies. I and my husband did not know of any such shipment, craft supplies or drugs being mailed to us. Should I abandon the claim and allow for forfeiture or should I send in a Petition?

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Katie August 11, 2016 at 5:43 am

Hello-
I received a letter from CBP a year after my jerseys were seized saying they were counterfeit. Which I’m sure they were based on the prices. 🙁 I am fine with just abandoning them, but not sure what I should respond in this letter giving me 5 options and what the penalties will be? Also if I do abandon them does that mean I am admitting that I ordered/imported them illegally? Or am I better off paying the domestic price to purchase them back?

Thanks,
Katie

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Jennifer Diaz October 14, 2016 at 3:16 pm

I never recommend abandoning without telling your story – you can potentially have penalties after a seizure case as well (read more about that here: http://customsandinternationaltradelaw.com/2016/04/12/yet-another-reason-to-record-your-trademark-or-copyright-with-u-s-customs-and-border-protection-cbp/).

Contact my office at info@diaztradelaw.com to see how we can help.

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Michele August 23, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Hello i need help my car was taken by cbp in sandiego and i recieved a notice of action should i file a petition on offer in compromise

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Jennifer Diaz October 14, 2016 at 3:12 pm

I typically recommend filing a Petition, contact me at info@diaztradelaw.com and we’ll see how we can help!

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Lola September 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Hi CBP seized my order from china A fake LV and Fake burberry. CBP send me a letter . What will I do . The amount total of order is $140.00.

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Karla September 16, 2016 at 2:35 am

I just received a letter from cbp.. Stayting that a package that i oder 3mk watches had been seized.. Is this something i should be worry about i am scared it says i could face civil penalty please help

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Jennifer Diaz September 21, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Yes – you should be concerned! Seizure cases are SERIOUS! IPR violations CAN also lead to penalties AFTER the seizure case is over. It is important to BE PROACTIVE and have an expert assist you in the seizure process. Call my office for a consultation today 305-456-3830.

More information on how seizure cases work may be found here: http://diaztradelaw.com/customs-border-protection-issues/cbp-seizures-fines-penalties-and-forfeitures/
More information on how penalty cases work may be found here: http://diaztradelaw.com/customs-border-protection-issues/cbp-penalties/
A Video discussing the seizure process may be found here: https://youtu.be/iODc37qGBJU

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sharon dover October 14, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Had ordered some jerseys from china and my package was seize I have no idea why I was ordering them for some diable kids still have n ot received a letter or anyrhing can I get my money bac k or will be able to get my goods ty please help

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Jennifer Diaz October 14, 2016 at 3:19 pm

I never recommend abandoning without telling your story – you can potentially have penalties after a seizure case as well (read more about that here: http://customsandinternationaltradelaw.com/2016/04/12/yet-another-reason-to-record-your-trademark-or-copyright-with-u-s-customs-and-border-protection-cbp/).

Contact my office at info@diaztradelaw.com to see how we can help.

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Malcom October 16, 2016 at 4:44 am

I received a detain letter from customs for having logos from apple accessories They gave me 7 days to respond to provide proof if can use there logo which I cant or the supplier. Which I lost $450 already plus my real question is will I get sued by apple especially when they got my name all wrong it doesnt even match my name is malcom chinease wrote Mahj La cam same with my phone number. Should i just ignore the letter let customs get rid of it.

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Jennifer Diaz October 17, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Apple does have the right to take separate action, apart from U.S. Customs. Typically, it starts with a cease and desist letter. If you read me top 10 tips (on the wwww.diaztradelaw.com homepage) you’ll know I always say “FIGHT” – and this way you get to tell your side of the story. For more specific help for your case, contact us at info@diaztradelaw.com today.

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Malcom October 17, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Thanks for your response, Even if the name is wrong? Can I just put doesnt live here in the next letter I get.

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Ramon November 2, 2016 at 2:40 am

I received a letter from customs a (non-cafra) for ordering sport jersey for a kids team. The letter does not have my correct legal name and now I have no intrest in receiving the package. If I sign the the box stating…(“I” abandon the property and forfeit property), does it show guilt or intresting In the package? If I don’t sign it, still shows I have no intresting in it and they will dispose the merchandise anyways after 30 days. Will I still be at fault?

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Jennifer Diaz November 11, 2016 at 4:22 pm

A Petition is your way of telling your side of the story, I highly recommend it. If you abandon, you make it easier for Customs to proceed with forfeiture, and depending on our case, the items involved, and the TM violated, potentially penalties thereafter. If you still have questions on your specific facts after reviewing our blog post, please schedule a consultation with us by emailing info@diaztradelaw.com.

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Angela November 2, 2016 at 4:05 pm

I received a letter from a delivery company Mercury Delivery Express stating I had been sent a package and if I did not send $4390 for Diplomatic Tag, my package would be confiscated. It has been 32 days. I have never received a letter from Customs. But was instructed to send money to a bank with routing number and account number. Can you please help and advise.

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Jennifer Diaz November 11, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Sounds like fraud to me. Customs will always send a seizure notice if they seize your package. If you still have questions – schedule a consultation with us by emailing info@diaztradelaw.com.

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Mitchell Gray January 4, 2017 at 9:55 pm

I read this blog and as an attorney myself I would advise each person who posts a question to give serious consideration to obtaining legal representation from a licensed attorney ASAP. In every instance you, a private person, are being advised by the federal government that you have broken federal laws. Whether this alleged breach is intentional or inadvertent you are facing a process unknown to you and the potential consequences are simply to great for you to do otherwise. Remember the old quotation: “an ounce or prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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Jennifer Diaz January 4, 2017 at 10:26 pm

Agreed! Seizure cases are SERIOUS! IPR violations CAN also lead to penalties AFTER the seizure case is over. It is important to BE PROACTIVE and have an expert assist you in the seizure process. Call my office for a consultation today 305-456-3830.
More information on how seizure cases work may be found here: http://diaztradelaw.com/customs-border-protection-issues/cbp-seizures-fines-penalties-and-forfeitures/
More information on how penalty cases work may be found here: http://diaztradelaw.com/customs-border-protection-issues/cbp-penalties/
A Video discussing the seizure process may be found here: https://youtu.be/iODc37qGBJU

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Mitchell Gray January 5, 2017 at 1:52 pm

I think many people will benefit from the YouTube videos Ms. Diaz posted about having your funds or goods seized by US Customs. Most telling, is the prohibition on “splitting money” so that any one person is carrying less than $10,000.00 in cash ( or other negotiable instruments or currency). The US government will consider the collective value for the “family” and then seize a violation. In that the rules can change quickly and the legal definition of “family members” is a legal meaning the wise traveler will consult a knowledgeable attorney before they depart.

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LUIS January 11, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Hello, I recently had a shipment detained in Customs in Laredo TX, no communication until yesterday that the officer called me and told me he wanted me to be present to answer some questions about the shipment seized almost a month ago. I asked him what was about and he told me he would say in person. I am concerned about this. What if I don’t go? and Can I send a lawyer to represent me? or what should I do? Please advise

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Jennifer Diaz January 18, 2017 at 12:24 am

Would absolutely recommend sending a lawyer instead of you, personally. To discuss the specific details, contact us at info@diaztradelaw.com

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Linda D. Price January 25, 2017 at 6:30 pm

It is a shame when everything we buy is from China or some other country, but when we buy it is is seized by the US Customs. I ordered some cups for my family and they were detained. This is totally not right. If it was drugs or something I could understand.

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Mitchell Gray February 20, 2017 at 5:22 pm

In the event you must file a protest to a liquidation or re-liquidation do you recommend “normal” procedures under 1581 (a) or expedited procedures under (b) ? I ask this because the Court of International Trade and Court of Appeals have upheld CBP inaction (despite the “shall” approve or deny statutory language providing two years) in Hitachi and Jensen cases (writ of mandamus failed) claiming no jurisdiction if CBP does not rule on the protest and that the 1581 (i) remedy is unavailable because the now numb and stunned importer can seek a remedy under 1581 for expedited process ( resulting in more delay and a “deemed denial”) that makes the initial decision not by CBP but the courts !

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