The Law School Authority

Prah v. Marietti Case Brief

Summary of Prah v. Marietti, S. Ct WI [1982]

Nuisance-Rights of Neighbors

Relevant Facts: Pl’s home was the first built in the subdivision built in 1978-79.  His residence has a solar system to supply energy for heat and hot water.  Afterward the Df purchased the adjacent lot and commenced planning construction of a home.  Pl advised Df that the proposed location would substantially and adversely affect the integrity of Pl’s solar system by shadowing his home.  Df obtained approval from the Architectural committee and the City of Muskego for the home.  Df changed the grade of the property w/o prior notice of the committee.

Legal Issue(s): Whether an owner of a solar heated residence stated a claim upon which relief can be granted when he asserted that the neighbor in constructing his residence interferes w/ his access to an unobstructed path for sunlight?

Court’s Holding: Has stated a claim but no determination as to whether entitled to relief.

Procedure: PL moved for Injunction, trial ct denied and granted Df Summary; S. Ct Reversed and remanded.

Law or Rule(s): When one landowner’s use of his or her property unreasonably interferes w/ another’s enjoyment of his or her property, that use is said to be a private nuisance. Nuisance is a non trespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment.

Court Rationale:   Society has increasingly regulated the use of land by the landowner for the general welfare.  Access to sunlight has taken on a new significance as a source of energy.   The need for easy and rapid development is not as great today while our perception of the value of sunlight as a source of energy has increased significantly.  The 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 for the 1980’s.  The result in each case depends on whether the conduct complained of is unreasonable.  Pl has stated a claim, but on remand must prove the elements required to establish actionable nuisance and the conduct of the Df must be judged by the reasonable use doctrine.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The Df’s construction, after notice of the result, amounts to an unreasonable interference w/ Pl’s right to use and enjoy his property.

Defendant’s Argument: The df’s right to use his property in accordance with its intended purpose, after the City approved Df’s plan does not create a private nuisance .

DISSENT: Traditional property rights allow a landowner to use his property w/i the limits of ordinances, statutes, and restrictions of record where such use is necessary to serve his legitimate needs.   A solar collector is an unusually sensitive use of property and undeserving of protection by private nuisance law.

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