Blossom Farm Products Co. v. Kasson Cheese Co., Inc.

133 Wis.2d 386, 395 N.W.2d 619 (1986)

Quick Summary

Blossom Farm Products Co. (plaintiff) and Kasson Cheese Co., Inc. (defendant) were involved in a legal dispute over a product called Isokappacase used in cheese production. Blossom sold it to Kasson, who then used it improperly to boost yields while labeling the product as real cheese.

The main issue was whether their contract was enforceable given Kasson’s deceptive labeling practices. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision that the contract was unenforceable because it went against public policy and involved mutual misconduct.

Facts of the Case

Blossom Farm Products Company (plaintiff) was in the business of selling a product called Isokappacase to Kasson Cheese Company, Inc. (defendant), which used the substance in its cheese production. Isokappacase is typically used as a starter or bacteriophage, but it can also be used to increase yields.

The catch is that cheese made with high-protein Isokappacase must be labeled as imitation cheese. Kasson purchased large quantities of Isokappacase—100 times more than necessary for typical use as a starter. They used it to enhance yields but mislabeled the final product as ‘real cheese.’

Blossom was aware of Kasson’s excessive purchases and their implications. Despite warnings and an understanding that the product was being misused, Blossom continued to sell Isokappacase to Kasson, benefiting both companies economically until Kasson ceased its use following a state warning.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Blossom sued Kasson to recover $138,306 owed for the last order of Isokappacase.
  2. The trial court found the contract unenforceable due to its illegality and awarded Blossom nothing.
  3. Both parties appealed the decision.

I.R.A.C. Format

Issue

Whether the contract for the sale of Isokappacase between Blossom and Kasson was unenforceable on the grounds of public policy due to Kasson’s mislabeling of its cheese products as ‘real cheese’ when they were in fact ‘imitation cheese’ due to the use of Isokappacase as a yield enhancer.

Rule of Law

Enforcement of a contract is against public policy if it involves knowing participation in illegal activity or improper conduct that benefits both parties. In this case, both the sale and labeling of the cheese products were scrutinized for adherence to federal and state standards concerning food products.

Reasoning and Analysis

The court examined evidence showing Blossom’s awareness of how Kasson was using Isokappacase and their mislabeling practices. The large volume of Isokappacase sold to Kasson could not be for legitimate starter use given their milk volume, indicating its use as a yield enhancer.

Despite knowing the product must then be labeled as imitation cheese, Blossom continued to facilitate Kasson’s business operations, which relied on mislabeling to stay economically viable. The court deemed this mutually beneficial arrangement against public policy, leading to the conclusion that enforcing the contract would condone and perpetuate this misconduct.

Conclusion

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment, determining that the contract was unenforceable due to being against public policy.

Key Takeaways

  1. The sale of Isokappacase by Blossom to Kasson was not inherently illegal; however, Kasson’s use of it as a yield enhancer required proper labeling as imitation cheese.
  2. Blossom was aware of Kasson’s mislabeling yet continued to sell them Isokappacase, which implicated them in Kasson’s improper actions.
  3. Contracts involved in furthering a party’s improper use or illegal activities are unenforceable on grounds of public policy.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What determines whether a contract is against public policy?

A contract is considered against public policy if it requires one or both parties to participate in illegal acts, or if it has a negative effect on society, such as promoting dishonesty or fraud.

  • For example: A contract for the sale of a substance known to be used illegally as a performance-enhancing drug in sports, with the seller’s awareness, would likely be deemed against public policy.

How do courts handle the issue of knowledge and participation in an illegal activity when it comes to enforceability of contracts?

Courts will typically rule contracts unenforceable if it can be shown that both parties had knowledge of and actively participated in the illegal activity related to the contract’s purpose.

  • For example: If two companies enter into an agreement to fix prices, which is illegal under antitrust laws, and both are aware and complicit in this objective, a court would likely find the contract unenforceable.

In what circumstances might a party still recover under an illegal contract?

Recovery under an illegal contract may be possible if the party seeking relief was not equally at fault or was unaware of the illegality, especially if refusing relief would result in unjust enrichment of the other party.

  • For example: A person unknowingly rents premises for an illegal gambling operation; they may recover rent paid if unaware of the illegal use, whereas the landlord who knows cannot.

References

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