Nix v. Hedden

Nix v. Hedden

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Nix v. Hedden, , was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 that affirmed the lower court ruling that the tomato
Tomato
The word "tomato" may refer to the plant or the edible, typically red, fruit which it bears. Originating in South America, the tomato was spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and its many varieties are now widely grown, often in greenhouses in cooler...

 should be classified under customs regulations as a vegetable
Vegetable
The noun vegetable usually means an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed. This typically means the leaf, stem, or root of a plant....

 rather than a fruit
Fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

. The Court's unanimous opinion held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words "fruit" and "vegetable," under which a tomato is classified as a vegetable, instead of the technical botanical meaning.

Background of the case


The Tariff Act of March 3, 1883
Tariff of 1883
In United States tax law history, the Tariff of 1883 , also known as the Mongrel Tariff Act by its critics, reduced high tariff rates only marginally, and left in place fairly strong protectionist barriers....

 required a tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. The case was filed as an action by John Nix, John W. Nix, George W. Nix, and Frank W. Nix against Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York
Collector of the Port of New York
The Collector of Customs at the Port of New York, most often referred to as Collector of the Port of New York, sometimes also as Collector of Customs for the Port of New York or Collector of Customs for the District of New York, was a federal officer who was in charge of the collection of import...

, to recover back duties paid under protest. Botanically
Botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

, a tomato is a fruit because it is a seed-bearing structure growing from the flowering part of a plant.

At the trial the plaintiff
Plaintiff
A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...

s' counsel, after reading in evidence
Evidence (law)
The law of evidence encompasses the rules and legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding. These rules determine what evidence can be considered by the trier of fact in reaching its decision and, sometimes, the weight that may be given to that evidence...

 definitions of the words 'fruit' and 'vegetables' from Webster's Dictionary
Webster's Dictionary
Webster's Dictionary refers to the line of dictionaries first developed by Noah Webster in the early 19th century, and also to numerous unrelated dictionaries that added Webster's name just to share his prestige. The term is a genericized trademark in the U.S.A...

, Worcester's Dictionary, and the Imperial Dictionary
Imperial Dictionary
The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language: A Complete Encyclopedic Lexicon, Literary, Scientific, and Technological, edited by Rev. John Ogilvie , was an expansion of the 1841 second edition of Noah Webster's American Dictionary. It was published by W. G...

, called two witness
Witness
A witness is someone who has firsthand knowledge about an event, or in the criminal justice systems usually a crime, through his or her senses and can help certify important considerations about the crime or event. A witness who has seen the event first hand is known as an eyewitness...

es, who had been for 30 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
Trade
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...

 or commerce
Commerce
While business refers to the value-creating activities of an organization for profit, commerce means the whole system of an economy that constitutes an environment for business. The system includes legal, economic, political, social, cultural, and technological systems that are in operation in any...

, different from those read."

During testimony, one witness testified that in regard to the dictionary definition:
"[the dictionary] 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 today 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.'"

Another witness testified that "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."

Both the plaintiffs' counsel and the defendant's counsel made use of the dictionaries. The plaintiffs' counsel read in evidence from the same dictionaries the definitions of the word tomato, while the defendant's counsel then read in evidence from Webster's Dictionary the definitions of the words pea
Pea
A pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum. Each pod contains several peas. Peapods are botanically a fruit, since they contain seeds developed from the ovary of a flower. However, peas are considered to be a vegetable in cooking...

, egg plant, cucumber
Cucumber
The cucumber is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, which includes squash, and in the same genus as the muskmelon. The plant is a creeping vine which bears cylindrical edible fruit when ripe. There are three main varieties of cucumber: "slicing", "pickling", and...

, squash, and pepper
Capsicum
Capsicum is a genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Its species are native to the Americas where they have been cultivated for thousands of years, but they are now also cultivated worldwide, used as spices, vegetables, and medicines - and have become are a key element in...

. Countering this, the plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster's and Worcester's dictionaries the definitions of potato
Potato
The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family . The word potato may refer to the plant itself as well as the edible tuber. In the region of the Andes, there are some other closely related cultivated potato species...

, turnip
Turnip
The turnip or white turnip is a root vegetable commonly grown in temperate climates worldwide for its white, bulbous taproot. Small, tender varieties are grown for human consumption, while larger varieties are grown as feed for livestock...

, parsnip
Parsnip
The parsnip is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most carrots and have a sweeter taste, especially when cooked. The buttery, slightly spicy, sweet flavor of cooked mature parsnips is reminiscent of butterscotch, honey, and subtle cardamom...

, cauliflower
Cauliflower
Cauliflower is one of several vegetables in the species Brassica oleracea, in the family Brassicaceae. It is an annual plant that reproduces by seed...

, cabbage
Cabbage
Cabbage is a popular cultivar of the species Brassica oleracea Linne of the Family Brassicaceae and is a leafy green vegetable...

, carrot
Carrot
The carrot is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh...

 and bean
Bean
Bean is a common name for large plant seeds of several genera of the family Fabaceae used for human food or animal feed....

.

The Court's decision



The court unanimously decided in favor of the defense and found that the tomato was classified as a vegetable, based on the ways in which it is used, and the popular perception to this end. Justice Horace Gray
Horace Gray
Horace Gray was an American jurist who ultimately served on the United States Supreme Court. He was active in public service and a great philanthropist to the City of Boston.-Early life:...

, writing the opinion for the Court, stated that:
"The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word 'fruit' as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are 'fruit,' as distinguished from 'vegetables,' in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff
Tariff
A tariff may be either tax on imports or exports , or a list or schedule of prices for such things as rail service, bus routes, and electrical usage ....

 act."

Justice Gray cited several different Supreme Court cases (Brown v. Piper, 91 U.S. 37, 42, and Jones v. U.S., 137 U.S. 202, 216) and stated that when words have acquired any special meaning in trade or commerce the ordinary meaning must be used by the court. In this case dictionaries cannot be admitted as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court. Gray acknowledged that botanically
Botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

, tomatoes are classified as a "fruit of the vine
Vine
A vine in the narrowest sense is the grapevine , but more generally it can refer to any plant with a growth habit of trailing or scandent, that is to say climbing, stems or runners...

", nevertheless they are seen as vegetables because they were usually eaten as a main course instead of being eaten as a dessert
Dessert
In cultures around the world, dessert is a course that typically comes at the end of a meal, usually consisting of sweet food. The word comes from the French language as dessert and this from Old French desservir, "to clear the table" and "to serve." Common Western desserts include cakes, biscuits,...

. In making his decision, Justice Gray mentioned another case where it had been claimed that beans were seeds
SEEDS
SEEDS is a voluntary organisation registered under the Societies Act of India....

 — Justice Bradley
Joseph Philo Bradley
Joseph Philo Bradley was an American jurist best known for his service on the United States Supreme Court, and on the Electoral Commission that decided the disputed 1876 presidential election.-Early life:...

, in Robertson v. Salomon, 130 U.S. 412, 414, similarly found that though a bean is botanically a seed, in common parlance
Idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

 a bean is seen as a vegetable. While on the subject, Gray clarified the status of the cucumber
Cucumber
The cucumber is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, which includes squash, and in the same genus as the muskmelon. The plant is a creeping vine which bears cylindrical edible fruit when ripe. There are three main varieties of cucumber: "slicing", "pickling", and...

, squash, pea
Pea
A pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum. Each pod contains several peas. Peapods are botanically a fruit, since they contain seeds developed from the ovary of a flower. However, peas are considered to be a vegetable in cooking...

, and bean
Bean
Bean is a common name for large plant seeds of several genera of the family Fabaceae used for human food or animal feed....

.

Subsequent jurisprudence


Nix has been cited in three Supreme Court decisions as a precedent for court interpretation of common meanings, especially dictionary definitions. (Sonn v. Maggone, ; Saltonstall v. Wiebusch & Hilger, ; and Cadwalder v. Zeh). Additionally, in JSG Trading Corp. v. Tray-Wrap, Inc., 917 F.2d 75 (2d Cir. 1990), a case unrelated to Nix aside from the shared focus on tomatoes, a judge wrote the following paragraph citing the case:
"In common parlance tomatoes are vegetables, as the Supreme Court observed long ago, see Nix v. Hedden 149 U.S. 304, 307, 13 S.Ct. 881, 882, 37 L.Ed. 745 (1893), although botanically speaking they are actually a fruit. 26 Encyclopedia Americana 832 (Int'l. ed. 1981). Regardless of classification, people have been enjoying tomatoes for centuries, even Mr. Pickwick, as Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

 relates, ate his chops in 'tomata' sauce."

In 2005, supporters in the New Jersey legislature cited Nix as a basis for a bill designating the tomato as the official state vegetable.

See also

  • Carrot
    Carrot
    The carrot is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh...

     – defined to be a fruit in European Community law, for the purpose of jam classification
  • Toy Biz v. United States
    Toy Biz v. United States
    Toy Biz v. United States  was a 2003 decision in the Court of International Trade that determined that for purposes of tariffs, Toy Biz's action figures were toys, not dolls, because they represented "nonhuman creatures." This decision effectively reduced the tariff rate by a factor of...

     – decided that action figures of certain superhero
    Superhero
    A superhero is a type of stock character, possessing "extraordinary or superhuman powers", dedicated to protecting the public. Since the debut of the prototypical superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes — ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas —...

    es are legally toy
    Toy
    A toy is any object that can be used for play. Toys are associated commonly with children and pets. Playing with toys is often thought to be an enjoyable means of training the young for life in human society. Different materials are used to make toys enjoyable and cuddly to both young and old...

    s, not doll
    Doll
    A doll is a model of a human being, often used as a toy for children. Dolls have traditionally been used in magic and religious rituals throughout the world, and traditional dolls made of materials like clay and wood are found in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe. The earliest documented dolls...

    s
  • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 149

External links

  • Rocknel Fastener, Inc. v. United States – 34 page PDF covering a similar case hinging on the difference between screw
    Screw
    A screw, or bolt, is a type of fastener characterized by a helical ridge, known as an external thread or just thread, wrapped around a cylinder. Some screw threads are designed to mate with a complementary thread, known as an internal thread, often in the form of a nut or an object that has the...

    s and bolts. The difference is outlined in a 21 page PDF Distinguishing Bolts From Screws.