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Prah v. Maretti

    Brief Fact Summary. Maretti (Defendant) planned to build a house, which would obstruct Prah’s (Plaintiff) solar powered house from having an unobstructed view of the sun.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court uses the balancing test, which compares the utility of use of the defendant to the gravity of harm to the plaintiff when considering a claim for private nuisance.

    Facts. When the Plaintiff learned of Defendant’s proposed house location, Plaintiff complained to the Defendant that his house would cause interference with his home. However, Defendant continued with the building plans. The two parties live in a neighborhood, which has an Architectural Control Committee. The Plaintiff’s home was the first built in the neighborhood. Defendant’s home plans were submitted and approved as to its location on the lot, but Defendant changed the grade of the lot without notice to the Architectural Control Committee. Plaintiff sued Defendant to prevent Defendant from building his house. The lower court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment ruling that the complaint did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Did the Plaintiff’s complaint state a claim for relief, which could be granted by a court?

    Held. Yes. Reversed and remanded.
    The Plaintiff alleged a private nuisance. A private nuisance occurs when one landowner’s use of his property unreasonably interferes with another’s enjoyment of his property. Historically, the courts in this jurisdiction have not recognized deprivations of sunlight as a private nuisance.
    This court, however, holds that the private nuisance law, as defined by reasonable use, is applicable to the case at bar. In considering a private nuisance claim, the court’s decision will rest on whether or not the use is unreasonable.
    The lower court incorrectly applied the balancing test, which compares the utility of defendant’s conduct against the gravity of harm to plaintiff. The lower court concluded that because the Defendant’s proposed home was within the specifications of the housing code, no actionable nuisance could be found. This court concluded that compliance with local housing codes is only one factor to weighed, and is not dispositive.
    The court held that the Plaintiff’s complaint did state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that the lower court was in error to grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The court did not consider the Plaintiff’s statutory claim or the claim based on prior appropriation.

    Dissent. The dissent noted that the legislature has authorized the local authorities to regulate access to sunlight.

    Discussion. In analyzing a claim for private nuisance, the balancing test should be considered, which compares the utility of use of the defendant to the gravity of harm to the plaint


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