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Do you know what chicken is? If you’ve taken a 1L contracts course, you’ll know the answer to that question is not so simple.
The case of Frigaliment Importing Co. v. B.N.S. International Sales Corp.—better known as, you guessed it, the Chicken Case—all started when Frigaliment Importing Co. (Frigaliment) contracted to buy some chicken from B.N.S. International Sales Corp. (B.N.S.). Frigaliment and B.N.S. had done most of the negotiating in German, but the contract used the English word “chicken.”
Swiss company Frigaliment interpreted “chicken” to mean young chickens that could be used for broiling or frying (broilers), not stewing chickens (fowl). Meanwhile, American company B.N.S. interpreted “chicken” to include both broilers and fowl. Thus, in its first shipment, B.N.S. sent mostly fowl, which was less expensive than broilers.
Frigaliment complained but accepted the shipment. However, when the second shipment also contained fowl, Frigaliment sued B.N.S. in federal court for breach of warranty on account of the goods not matching the description in the contract.
Federal Judge Friendly ultimately found in favor of B.N.S., but in so doing, he laid out and applied the standard maxims for contract interpretation. For this reason, law students still study this case today.