Law School Case Brief
Nix v. Hedden - 149 U.S. 304, 13 S. Ct. 881 (1893)
Of the ordinary meaning of words the court is bound to take judicial notice, as it does in regard to all words in our own tongue; and upon such a question dictionaries are admitted, not as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court.
Plaintiff brought an action to recover tariffs assessed pursuant to the Tariff Act of 1883, and paid under protest, on tomatoes that plaintiff had imported. The tariffs were based on defendant government's finding that tomatoes were vegetables. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the government. Plaintiff appealed by a writ of error, arguing that tomatoes were to be classed as fruit, not vegetables.
Did the court err in taxing tomatoes as a vegetable?
The United States Supreme Court affirmed, holding that fruits and vegetables had acquired no special meaning in commerce. Thus, while tomatoes, botanically speaking, were fruit of the vine, in the common language of the people, they were vegetables within their ordinary meaning. The court noted that it was bound to take judicial notice of the ordinary meaning of all words in our own tongue and upon such a question dictionaries are admitted, not as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court.
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