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Prah v. Maretti

    Brief Fact Summary. A person’s house uses solar energy. The owner of adjacent property attempts to build a structure that would block the sunlight from the house.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a landowner uses solar energy, and a new structure will unreasonably interfere with his use and enjoyment of his solar-powered property, the construction of the new structure can be enjoined under the theory of private nuisance.

    Facts. The plaintiff’s residence uses solar energy for heat and hot water. The defendant bought the lot adjacent to the residence and planned to build a home, but the home would adversely affect the plaintiff’s solar energy collecting. The plaintiff seeks injunctive relief.

    Issue. When a person uses sunlight as a source of energy, will the theory of private nuisance allow him to protect his property interest?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
    The plaintiff is seeking to protect access to sunlight as a source of energy, not for aesthetic reasons. Access to sunlight as an energy source is important to the landowner who has invested in solar collectors and to a society which has an interest in developing alternative sources of energy.
    The law of private nuisance can be used to protect both a landowner’s right of access to sunlight and another landowner’s right to develop land because it recognizes changing social values and conditions.
    Recognition of a nuisance claim for unreasonable obstruction of access to sunlight will not prevent land development or unduly hinder the use of adjoining land. Although obstruction of access to light might be found to constitute a nuisance in certain circumstances, this does not mean that it will be or must be found to constitute a nuisance under all circumstances. The result in each case depends on whether the conduct complained of is unreasonable.

    Dissent. A nuisance is an invasion of another’s use or enjoyment of land. Blocking sunlight is not an invasion, since the building satisfies all zoning ordinances. The plaintiff’s solar energy system is an unusually sensitive use, and those uses are not protected by nuisance law.

    Discussion. If sunlight is used for energy, and not for mere aesthetic reasons, courts will be more willing to find a property interest and will use the theory of private nuisance when deciding the


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