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The Ancient Maxim Caveat Emptor, 40 Yale Law Journal 1133 (1931)


THE text, which once lent authority to an essay in the law, has gone the way of studied sermon and formal faith. But its passing brings no deprivation of the ancient liberties. For in its stead the scribbler in need may select a decision from the emerging volumes of the reports, suit it to the occasion, and endow it with the appropriate meaning. Now and then a provident court hands down a judgment which properly combines suggestion and provocation. A recent example of such judicial benevolence is "the good oil case" which seems heaven sent as the point of departure for the theme of the buyer, his ware, and the law.

The legislature of Connecticut, in an effort to protect the purses of its improvident citizens, passed an act fixing minimum standards for motor oils offered for sale. The statute provided that vendible oils must meet the tests for quality and composition set down in Technical Paper 323 B, issued by the United States Bureau of Mines. The legislation was challenged by a number of oil companies who prayed the federal court of the district of Connecticut for equitable relief. After an extended hearing, a special bench of three judges found the standards to be unreasonable, declared the measure to be a taking of property without due process of law, and pronounced the statute null and void.

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