Michigan Supreme Court - 66 Mich. 568
In the 1887 case, Sherwood v. Walker, farmer Theodore Sherwood sued cattle importers and breeders, Hiram Walker and associates, over an oral agreement to purchase a cow named Rose 2d of Aberlone for $80. The purchase was based on the assumption that Rose was infertile and unable to breed. When Walker discovered that the cow was actually pregnant, they refused to deliver her to Sherwood, arguing that no contract existed because both parties were mistaken about the cow's nature.
Sherwood took legal action for possession of the cow at the agreed price. The trial court ruled in his favor and issued a writ of replevin for the cow. However, the Supreme Court reversed this decision, arguing that there was no contract due to a mutual mistake concerning the cow's fertility. The court applied the mutual mistake test, determining whether the mistake concerned the core of the agreement. Finding that both parties believed they were negotiating for an infertile cow, the court reasoned that had they known the truth, the contract would never have existed, and therefore it was void.
This case highlights the legal principle of mutual mistake, which allows a contract to be avoided if both parties are mistaken about a crucial fact affecting their agreement. This principle is distinct from unilateral mistake - where only one party is mistaken - and fraud or misrepresentation, which involves false statements made to induce a contract. Mutual mistake acknowledges that contracts rely on mutual consent and that without true agreement between the parties, no contract exists.
The plaintiff, who was a banker, agreed to buy a cow from the defendants at a particular price. The defendants confirmed the sale in writing but did not allow the deliveryman to deliver the cow. The plaintiff obtained the cow through a writ of replevin and filed a lawsuit. The court ruled that the intent of the parties controlled the sale and passing of title. The weighing of the cow did not require the presence or action of the defendants or their agents. The sale of the cow was considered valid, even though it was assumed that the cow was barren. However, a contract can be refused or cancelled by either party if it was based on an important error or misunderstanding. The court upheld the lower court's verdict and judgment.
The case involves a dispute over a contract of sale for a cow between a banker and a dealer in high-grade livestock. The plaintiff believed the cow to be of a specific breed and unable to breed, but it gave birth to a calf. The court found that there was no mutual mistake of fact in the lack of a warranty, and the circuit judge's interpretation of the contract was correct. Therefore, there is no legal basis for the defendants to cancel the contract. Justice Sherwood dissented from the majority's decision and believed that the plaintiff was entitled to the property unless there was a mistake that would invalidate the contract, which he did not find.
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