Legalese

"Red Cow" Cases (Sometimes Called "Spotted Calf" Cases)

Not a red bull, not a red heifer ....

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I was just reminded of this little bit of legalese, so I thought I'd mention it again:

The term "red cow" is used in some legal circles, particularly in Florida, to describe a case that is directly on point, a commanding precedent.

It can also be "spotted calf," or "spotted horse," "spotted dog," "white horse," and "white pony," among other animals. The origin of the phrase is a mystery. Some have speculated that it may be connected to the Biblical red heifer, as an example of some perfect specimen of a thing. Others suggest that it's a hyperbolic reference to a case that's so on-point that even irrelevant factual details (such as the color of the animal involved) match. In any case, Florida is apparently the home pasture of the red cow cases, though some have been spotted in cases from Alabama and New Mexico.

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  1. I once argued a dispositive motion where a co-defendant’s counsel (going ahead of me) argued the leading case was so on all fours with our defense that it was barking and wagging its tail.
    But I’ve never been on a red cow case.

  2. I think you are missing a small bit of nuance with your excerpted quote. To be a “red cow” case (or one of the variants), the precedent is not just directly on point legally (a cow) but factually (a red cow).

    See, e.g., Kuvin v. City of Coral Gables, 62 So. 3d 625, 644 n.3 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) (“The term ‘red cow’ is used in Florida to describe a case that is directly on point, that is, a case that not only involved the same animal but also the same color.”).

  3. I remember discussing the Red Cow when taking adult Judaism classes.

    “One of the most enigmatic mitzvahs in the Torah is the parah adumah, the red heifer, which was used for ritual purification. There have been only nine such heifers in history, and our tradition tells us that there will be one more in the future. Here is an overview of the mysterious red heifer, which left even King Solomon, the wisest of all men, scratching his head in wonderment.”

  4. cow chip raffle?

  5. Along with hugh59, I immediately thought of the Bible:

    “This is the statute of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.” Numbers 19:2.

    There is more there but it all about cleansing persons who have touched dead bodies from impurity. That said, loki13’s explanation makes sense too!

  6. What about your pet Bull Cow?

  7. A rose by any other name …

    I went to law school in Michigan and the term to which I was introduced was “Brown Cow”. From what law school or region the professor who first used it came, I have no idea.

    It possibly could also be generational. I went to school in the 60s, but mentioned it to someone else who was about 7 years my junior and she had never heard the term.

  8. Now I want a Spotted Cow. Which is a unique to Wisconsin beer, and the best 12 ounces of any liquid I’ve ever tasted.

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