Cohn Prize awarded to Cooley Professor

By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

Norman Otto Stockmeyer, Thomas M. Cooley Professor was recently awarded the Cohn Prize in Law and Public Policy Scholarship by the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters (the Academy). He was honored for his paper, "The Tortuous History of the Mutual-Mistake Doctrine in Michigan Contract Law," which was presented at the Academy's 2011 annual conference.

"I am honored to be chosen for this award, and privileged to work at an institution where contributing to the public's understanding of the law is encouraged," said Stockmeyer.

"This is well-deserved recognition of Professor Stockmeyer's dedication to scholarly outreach," added Charles Cercone, Cooley Associate Dean of Faculty. "He exemplifies our emphasis on practical legal scholarship."

Stockmeyer told the story behind Michigan's most celebrated cow, Rose of Aberlone, her owners and their mutual mistake to the lawyers attending the Ingham County Bar Association Luncheon Lecture on October 27th in 2010.

''More than a century ago,'' Stockmeyer said, ''Theodore Sherwood of Plymouth entered into a contract to purchase a cow from Hiram Walker of Detroit. Because it was thought that the cow was barren, it was sold for beef. The price was 51/2 cents a pound, or about eighty dollars. Later, when Walker, (discovering that Rose was with calf) tried to back out of the deal, Sherwood sued him.''

The resulting opinion, Sherwood v. Walker, (66 Mich.568, (1887) handed down by the Supreme Court of Michigan, became a legal classic, and is still studied by law students across the country. American Heritage magazine picked Sherwood v. Walker, as one of its ''Five Classic Cases'' that every law student must know. Additionally, in Sherwood's hometown, the State Bar of Michigan erected a Legal Milestone marker that recognizes the case as ''one of the most celebrated contracts cases in American history.''

In 1993, Governor John Engler, a former student of Stockmeyer, issued a proclamation of tribute to Rose's case. In it, the Governor rightly asserted that the case's significance transcends the misguided individuals involved in the dispute: ''The details of this case are less important than the ruling, which remains as sound today as it was over a century ago. The principals are gone but the principle will never die.''

''I've taught Contracts and Remedies for more than 30 years,'' Stockmeyer said, ''and Sherwood v. Walker shows up in both courses: as a mistake case in Contracts and as a rescission case in Remedies.''

The Cohn Prize represents Professor Stockmeyer's second recognition for scholarly writing in recent years. An article he wrote for the Cooley Law Review was selected for reprinting in The Green Bag's 2008 anthology of exemplary legal writing. It also dealt with aspects of the mutual-mistake doctrine.

The Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters is a regional multidisciplinary academic society. The Academy awards the Cohn Prize for the paper presented at the annual conference that best contributes to the existing scholarly literature on the topic of law or public policy.

The Cohn Prize recognizes Judge Avern L. Cohn for his patronage of the Academy and legal scholarship. The award will be presented at the Academy's 2012 annual conference, which will be held on the campus of Alma College on March 2, 2012.

Professor Stockmeyer's paper has been published in the Academy's academic journal, Michigan Academician, and can be accessed at /abstract=1789778

Published: Mon, Jan 30, 2012