This is the case of the not-so-barren cow. Sherwood (Plaintiff) contracted to buy a cow believed to be barren, at a low price from Walker and others (Defendants). Later, the parties realized the cow was with calf. The Plaintiff wanted to enforce the contract while Defendants wanted rescission.
In a mutual mistake case, it is important that the mistake goes to the essence of the agreement.
After the parties learned the cow was not barren, the purpose of the contract became frustrated, as the cow was initially sold as beef and not as a breeder. The trial court held that the contract should be performed at the agreed-upon price. Defendants appealed.
This case ponders the question of whether two parties should be held to an agreement regarding a thing, if the nature of the thing changes entirely.
The court found that the parties’ misapprehension regarding the barren nature of the cow went to the substance of the agreement. As such, the agreement was void; due to its pregnancy, the cow ceased to be the animal that was originally deemed to be.
Judge Sherwood found there was no evidence that the Plaintiff did not, in fact, understand what he was buying. The Plaintiff had expressed that the cow may be able to breed and he was interested in a breeder. As such, he was not mistaken and should have been able to recover.
When parties to a contract agree upon an object, taking for granted that it will not change, a change in the nature of the object could void the contract.