Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893), is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court held, 9–0, that the tomato should be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit for purposes of tariffs, imports and customs.[1] Justice Horace Gray delivered the opinion of the Court in holding that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words "fruit" and "vegetable", instead of the technical botanical meaning.

Nix v. Hedden
Submitted April 24, 1892
Decided May 10, 1893
Full case nameJohn Nix, John W. Nix, George W. Nix, and Frank W. Nix v. Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York
Citations149 U.S. 304 (more)
13 S. Ct. 981; 37 L. Ed. 745; 1893 U.S. LEXIS 2303
Case history
PriorJudgment for defendant, 39 F. 109 (C.C. S.D.N.Y. 1889)
Tomatoes are "vegetables" and not "fruit" within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883 based on the common meaning of those words.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Melville Fuller
Associate Justices
Stephen J. Field · John M. Harlan
Horace Gray · Samuel Blatchford
David J. Brewer · Henry B. Brown
George Shiras Jr. · Howell E. Jackson
Case opinion
MajorityGray, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
Tariff Act of 1883 (Mongrel Tariff)

Background of the case edit

John Nix founded the John Nix & Co. fruit commission in New York City in 1839. The company became one of the largest sellers of produce in New York City at the time, and was one of the first companies to ship produce from Virginia, Florida, and Bermuda to New York.[2]

In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, requiring a tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. The John Nix & Co. company filed a suit against Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York, to recover back duties paid under protest. They argued against the tariff by pointing out that, botanically, a tomato is a fruit due to its seed-bearing structure growing from the flowering part of a plant.[3]

At the trial, the plaintiffs' counsel entered into evidence definitions of the words "fruit" and "vegetables" from Webster's Dictionary, Worcester's Dictionary, and the Imperial Dictionary. They called two witnesses, who had been in the business of selling fruit and vegetables for 30 years, and asked them, after hearing these definitions, to say whether these words had "any special meaning in trade or commerce, 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."[4]

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, eggplant, cucumber, squash, and pepper.[5] Countering this, the plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster's and Worcester's dictionaries the definitions of potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and bean.

The Court's decision edit

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit. However, in common parlance it is a vegetable; hence the United States Supreme Court ruled that a tomato is a vegetable for the purposes of the customs regulations.

The court unanimously decided in favor of the respondent and found that the tomato should be classified under the customs regulations as a vegetable, based on the ways in which it is used, and the popular perception to this end. Justice Horace Gray, 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 act.

Justice Gray, citing several Supreme Court cases (Brown v. Piper, 91 U.S. 37, 42, and Jones v. U.S., 137 U.S. 202, 216) stated that when words have acquired no 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, tomatoes are classified as a "fruit of the vine"; nevertheless, they are seen as vegetables because they were usually eaten as a main course instead of being eaten as a dessert. In making his decision, Justice Gray mentioned another case where it had been claimed that beans were seeds — Justice Bradley, in Robertson v. Salomon, 130 U.S. 412, 414, similarly found that though a bean is botanically a seed, in common parlance a bean is seen as a vegetable. While on the subject, Gray clarified the status of the cucumber, squash, pea, and bean.

Subsequent jurisprudence edit

Nix has been cited in three Supreme Court decisions as a precedent for court interpretation of common meanings, especially dictionary definitions. (Sonn v. Maggone, 159 U.S. 417 (1895); Saltonstall v. Wiebusch & Hilger, 156 U.S. 601 (1895); and Cadwalader v. Zeh, 151 U.S. 171 (1894)). 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 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.[6]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893).
  2. ^ "Virginia Truck Farms: How They Supply Food For The Great Cities". Fruit Trade Journal and Produce Record. 56: 14. January 20, 1917. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  3. ^ "Garden Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum - Overview - Encyclopedia of Life". Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  4. ^ 149 U.S. at 305.
  5. ^ "Are Tomatoes Fruits or Vegetables?". June 9, 2010. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  6. ^ State of New Jersey, 212th Legislature, No. A1210

References edit

External links edit