Case of first impression
This case thus involves a conflict between one landowner (Glenn
Prah, the plaintiff) interested in unobstructed access to
sunlight across adjoining property as a natural source of energy
and an adjoining landowner (Richard D. Maretti, the defendant)
interested in the development of his land.
Circuit Court For Defendant
The circuit court concluded that the plaintiff presented no
claim upon which relief could be granted and granted summary
judgment for the defendant.
Supreme Court - Reversed
We reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the
cause to the circuit court for further proceedings.
Pl - Complaint
First residence built.
Not in center of lot, but in accordance with restrictions.
When Pl learned of Df - construction plans, the Pl advised the
Df that his plans would substantially and adversely affect the
integrity of the solar system and would cause other damage.
Failed to reach an agreement
Moved for a temporary injunction to restrain and enjoin
Df - Plans were approved
Architectural Control Committee.
Df changed Grade of Property
Did notice the committee of change.
Pl - Arg
The combination of the grade and distance of the Df - house
cause the Pl - problems.
Law of private nuisance - comparative evaluation
Requires the court to make "a comparative evaluation of the
conflicting interests and to weigh the gravity of the harm to
the plaintiff against the utility of the defendant's conduct."
The circuit court concluded
comparative evaluation of the conflicting interests, keeping in
mind the omissions and commissions of both Prah and Maretti,
indicates that defendant's
conduct does not cause the gravity of the harm which
the plaintiff himself may well have avoided by proper
Whether the complaint states a claim for relief based on common
law private nuisance - Analysis
When one landowner's use of his or her property unreasonably
interferes with another's enjoyment of his or her property, that
use is said to be a private nuisance.
The Restatement defines private nuisance
nontrespassory invasion of another's interest in the private use
and enjoyment of land."
The phrase "interest in the
private use and enjoyment of land" is broadly defined
to include any disturbance of the enjoyment of property.
"The phrase 'interest in the use and enjoyment of land' is used
in this Restatement in a broad sense.
It comprehends not only the interests that a person may have in
the actual present use of land for residential, agricultural,
commercial, industrial and other purposes, but also his
interests in having the present use
value of the land unimpaired by changes in its physical
Thus the destruction of trees on
vacant land is as much an invasion of the owner's
interest in its use and enjoyment as is the destruction of crops
or flowers that he is growing on the land for his present use.
'Interest in use and enjoyment' also comprehends the pleasure,
comfort and enjoyment that a person normally derives from the
occupancy of land.
Freedom from discomfort and annoyance while using land is often
as important to a person as freedom from physical interruption
with his use or freedom from detrimental change in the physical
condition of the land itself."
English Ancient Lights Doctrine
American Court Repudiated Ancient Lights Doctrine
Malicious Obstruction of Sun Light
If an activity is motivated by malice it lacks utility and the
harm it causes others outweighs any social values.
Legislature against spite fence
Enacted a law specifically defining a spite fence as an
actionable private nuisance.
Circuit Courts Reasoning - Three Reluctance Policy Concerns
First, the right of landowners to use their property as they
wished, as long as they did not cause physical damage to a
neighbor, was jealously guarded.
Second, sunlight was valued only for aesthetic enjoyment or as
Since artificial light could be used for illumination, loss of
sunlight was at most a personal annoyance which was given
little, if any, weight by society.
Third, society had a significant interest in not restricting or
impeding land development.
This court repeatedly emphasized that in the growth period of
the nineteenth and early twentieth centurys change is to be
expected and is essential to property and that recognition of a
right to sunlight would hinder property development.
New Policy Concerns
First, society has increasingly regulated the use of land by the
landowner for the general welfare.
Second, access to sunlight
has taken on a new significance
in recent years.
In this case the plaintiff seeks to protect access to sunlight,
not for aesthetic reasons or as a source of illumination
but as a source of energy.
Access to sunlight as an energy source is of significance
both to the landowner who invests in solar collectors and to
a society which has an interest in developing
alternative sources of energy.
Third, the policy of favoring unhindered private development in
an expanding economy is no longer in harmony with the realities
of our society.
The need for easy and rapid development is not as great today as
it once was, while our perception of the value of sunlight as a
source of energy has increased significantly
- Private nuisance law
The law traditionally used to adjudicate conflicts between
private landowners, has the flexibility to protect both a
landowner's right of access to sunlight and another landowner's
right to develop land.
In Harmony with modern society, legislative policy and prior
Private nuisance law is better suited to regulate access to
sunlight in modern society and is more in harmony with
legislative policy and the prior decisions of this court than is
an inflexible doctrine of non-recognition of any interest in
access to sunlight across adjoining land.
Private nuisance law, that is, the reasonable use doctrine as
set forth in the Restatement, is applicable to the instant case.
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.
It will promote the reasonable use and enjoyment of land in a
manner suitable to the 1980's.
Ease Case is different
That obstruction of access to light might be found to constitute
a nuisance in certain circumstances does not mean that it will
be or must be found to constitute a nuisance under all
The result in each case depends on whether the conduct
complained of is unreasonable.
The Plaintiff has stated a claim.
Circuit Court is reversed.
DISSENT Justice Callow
solar collector was an unusually sensitive use, and thus not
protected by private nuisance.