Judicial Notice

Judicial notice is a rule that permits a fact to be accepted as evidence without further proof – if it is so well known that no one could reasonably doubt or debate it. An example of judicial notice being granted would be a day of the week that corresponded to a specific calendar date being accepted as true, without the need for further proof. Judicial notice is granted upon the request of the party seeking to rely upon the fact in question. To explore this concept, consider the following judicial notice definition.

Definition of Judicial Notice

Noun

  1. A court’s recognition of a fact that is not reasonably disputable, and without introduction of supporting evidence.

Origin

Believed to have been practiced throughout history

What is Judicial Notice

Judicial notice is a rule of law that permits a party to ask the court to accept as fact something that is so widely known that no one would dispute it. What this means is that, if judicial notice is granted, the court will accept the fact as true without the need for any proof that it is, in fact, true. These facts can also be admitted by one party if the other party wishes to debate them by providing conflicting evidence. Along with being used for common sense facts, judicial notice can also be employed within one state to refer to a law of another state, such as the baseline averages of the stopping distances of motor vehicles.

Judicial notice differs based on whether the case is a criminal or civil case. For example, judicial notice in a criminal trial means that the defendant is entitled to contest every fact presented that could potentially incriminate him. In this case, the court taking the judicial notice would allow the jury to make a finding that the court would notice but would not require a particular outcome. The court would also not prevent the defense from presenting evidence that would contradict the noticed fact. In a civil trial, however, the fact that is being taken notice of is conclusively proved.

Official Notice

“Official notice” is similar to judicial notice, only it applies to patent applications. Typically, when a patent claim is rejected, the examiner has to show prima facie evidence that the inventor was aware of the subject matter of that claim before applying for the patent. However, when the claim is being limited for some trivial or well-known reason, patent examiners can exercise official notice to that fact.

Inventors are then permitted to negotiate the official notice given by the examiner. If the inventor chooses to do this, then the examiner must show evidence that the fact in question, which is limiting the patent, is well known to the public.

Judicial Notice in the Federal Court

Judicial notice is permitted at the federal court level, and the Federal Rules of Evidence – specifically Rule 201 – allows judges to take judicial notice of facts that fall into one of two categories:

  • Facts that are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court,” such as the physical locations of streets that fall within that court’s jurisdiction.
  • Facts that are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned,” such as the day of the week on a particular calendar date.

Judicial notice at the federal court level can either be permissive or mandatory. If it is permissive, the court can either choose to take judicial notice of the fact, or reject the request and require the party to provide evidence to support his point. If, however, the judicial notice is mandatory, then the federal court must take judicial notice of the fact on its face.

Request for Judicial Notice

Typically, a request for judicial notice is made before it is enacted. However, there are situations wherein a request for judicial notice does not have to be made before a court takes action. For example, judicial notice requests, and the lack of requests, are outlined thoroughly in the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, Article 45. Here it is stated that:

“Every court may take judicial notice without request of private acts and resolutions of the congress of the United States and of the legislature of the state; ordinances and regulations of officers, agencies or governmental subdivisions of the state or of the United States; and the laws of foreign countries or their political subdivisions. Judicial notice shall be taken of matters specified in this subdivision if a party requests it, furnishes the court sufficient information to enable it to comply with the request, and has given each adverse party notice of his intention to request it. Notice shall be given in the pleadings or prior to the presentation of any evidence at the trial, but a court may require or permit other notice.”

Mandatory Judicial Notice

Mandatory judicial notice pertains to an instance wherein a party requests that the court take judicial notice, and then supplies the court with the information needed for that notice. Mandatory judicial notice is different from discretionary judicial notice, which is a situation wherein a court takes judicial notice sua sponte. If a party requests a fact be accepted on mandatory judicial notice at the federal court level, the court must accept that fact as true.

Judicial Notice Example in a Case Involving a Gas-Powered Oven

On August 29, 1969, Dorothy Logan bought a new stove from Montgomery Ward at its retail store located in Baltimore, Maryland. The stove was loaded onto a truck and delivered to Dorothy’s home, and then installed by Thomas Moseley, an employee of Bottled Gas Corporation. Moseley connected the stove to the two propane gas fuel tanks that were located outside of Dorothy’s home by running copper wire from the regulator on the tanks under the kitchen, into the house, and under one of the back burners on top of the range.

Moseley testified that he had installed the stove routinely and properly, and that the required pressure checks were made to ensure that no leaks were present in the line or the stove. After installation, Moseley showed Dorothy how to operate the stove. He advised her that, in order to turn on the oven or one of the burners, she simply had to push and turn a knob and the burner would be ignited. Moseley testified that, upon leaving Dorothy’s home, everything was working fine.

Dorothy testified that from September 2 until September 21, she had no need to use the oven. She had only used the top burners up to that point and never experienced a problem. On the morning of September 21, however, after heating up some rolls in the oven, she heard what she described as a “bloop” noise when she turned off the stove. She served breakfast as normal, and as she went to clear the table and wash the dishes, the stove exploded.

Dorothy was engulfed in flames and was rescued by her son, then taken to the local hospital and received emergency treatment for burns and other injuries. The kitchen, dining room, and back porch of her house were all destroyed in the fire, and a section of the bedroom was badly damaged.

Further, the broiler door of the stove was blown clear across the kitchen, where it was embedded in the wall. The oven door too was blown off and landed about 24 feet from the stove. Dorothy lost her stove, refrigerator, and other kitchen furniture, which were charred beyond repair and had to be thrown out.

Dorothy sued Montgomery Ward and Bottled Gas Corporation for property damages, and for damages related to her personal injuries as a result of the explosion. A request for judicial notice was granted regarding the fact that it is common knowledge that gas stoves are normally manufactured, installed, and operated safely and properly, without malfunction or incident. For this reason, Dorothy was justified in bringing her case before the court, because she did not, unfortunately, have this more commonly accepted and typical experience.

At trial, however, the lower court granted summary judgment for the defendants, who argued that Dorothy had not established that either of the defendants were negligent. Dorothy appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, but only as to Montgomery Ward. This decision may have been detrimental to the ultimate outcome of her case. Her question to the court was:

“May a defect in a retail product be reasonably inferred merely from evidence of careful transportation, installation, and use followed by an unexplained accident so as to permit submission of the question of defect to a jury?”

Dorothy’s case was built on the fact that a defect may have existed within the stove when it left Montgomery Ward. The appellate court found that either a defect in the stove itself or in the gas line connecting the tanks to the stove could cause gas to collect in the stove, which can result in an explosion. To further establish judicial notice that a stove is expected to work properly upon receipt, the court stated the following:

“The standard of safety of goods imposed on the seller or manufacturer of a product is essentially the same whether the theory of liability is labeled warranty or negligence. The product must be fit for the ordinary purposes for which it is to be used. There was an implied warranty of merchantability that the stove was reasonably safe for its intended use.”

However, the appellate court ultimately affirmed the lower court’s decision, stating that there was not enough evidence present to confirm that there was indeed a defect with the stove itself at the point that it left the manufacturer. The court noted that there are several other reasons that could potentially explain the explosion, but that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the stove was defective when it left the manufacturer.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Prima Facie – Accepted as correct at face value until proven otherwise.
  • Sua Sponte – To do something on his/her/its own accord.
  • Summary Judgment – A final decision on the case, handed down by the judge on the basis of the statements and evidence presented, without a full trial.

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