Nix v. Hedden

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[ 304 ]

Supreme Court opinion

149 U.S. 304 (1893)


[No. 137.] Submitted April 24, 1893. Decided May 10, 1893

(See S. C. Reporter's ed. 304-307.)

Tariff Act of 1883 - Judicial notice of meaning of words.


1. Tomatoes, considered as provisions, are to be classed as "vegetables," within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883.
2. The court is bound to take judicial notice of the ordinary meaning of all words in our own tongue; and upon such a question of dictionaries are admitted, not as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court.

Note. -

As to lien of United States for duties, see note to United States v. 350 Chests of Tea, 6: 602.
As to an action to recover duties paid under protest: protest, how made, and its effect, see note to Greely v. Thompson, 13: 397.

IN ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, to review a judgement for defendant in an action brought against the Collector of the Port of New York, to recover back duties paid under protest on tomatoes imported. Affirmed.

See same case below, 89 Fed. Rep. 109.

Statement by Mr. Justice Gray:

[ 305 ] *This was an action, brought February 4, 1887, against the collector of the port of New York, to recover back duties, paid under protest, on tomatoes imported by the plaintiff from the West Indies in the spring of 1886, which the collector assessed under "Schedule G. -- Provisions," of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, chap. 121, imposing a duty on
"Vegetables, in their natural state, or in salt or brine, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act, ten per centum ad valorem";
and which the plaintiff contended came within the clause in the free list of the same act,
"Fruits, green, ripe or dried, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act."
22 Stat. at L.504, 519.
At the trial, the plaintiff's counsel, after reading in evidence definitions of the words "fruit" and "vegetables" from Webster's Dictionary, Worcester's Dictionary and the Imperial Dictionary, called two witnesses, who had been for thirty years in the business of selling fruit and vegetables, and asked them, after hearing these definitions, to say whether these words had "any special meaning in trade or commerce, different from those read."
One of the witnesses answered as follows:
"Well, it does not classify all things there, but they are correct as far as they go. It does not take all kinds of fruit or vegetables; it takes a portion of them. I think the words "fruit" and "vegetable" have the same meaning in trade to-day that they had on March 1, 1883. I understand that the term "fruit" is applied in trade only to such plants or parts of plants as contain the seeds. There are more vegetables than those in the enumeration given in Webster's Dictionary under the term 'vegetable,' as 'cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,' probably covered by the words 'and the like.'"
The other witness testified:
"I don't think the term 'fruit' or the term 'vegetables' had, in March, 1883, and prior thereto, any special meaning in trade and commerce in this country, different from that which I have read here from the dictionaries."
The plaintiff's counsel then read in evidence from the same dictionaries the definitions of the word "tomato."
[ 306 ] *The defendant's counsel then read in evidence from Webster's Dictionary the definitions of the words "pea," "egg plant," "cucumber," "squash" and "pepper."
The plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster's and Worcester's dictionaries the definitions of "potato," "turnip," "parsnip," "cauliflower," "cabbage," "carrot" and "bean."
No other evidence was offered by either party. The court, upon the defendant's motion, directed a verdict for him, which was returned, and judgment rendered thereon. 88 Fed. Rep. 109 The plaintiffs duly excepted to the instruction, and sued out this writ of error.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).