Prah v. Maretti Case Brief

Summary of Prah v. Maretti, 321 N.W.2d 182 (Wis. 1982)

Facts: P has a solar energy system on his property. D bought the neighboring land and started construction on the property even after P requested that D build the house few feet away because the current construction will block the sunlight to his system. P brought this suit claiming that he is entitled to unrestricted use of the sun and its solar power and asks for an injunction requiring the D to stop the construction. D argues that the construction follows all the city ordinances and he has the right to continue this legally sound construction on his land.

Procedure: The trial court issued summary judgment for defendant.

Issue: Can the court grant relief to plaintiff under the current legal standards?

Holding: Yes

Important Definitions: Private nuisance: On land owner’s use of his or her property unreasonably interferes with another’s enjoyment of his or her property.

Ancient Lights Doctrine: English common law doctrine that states that if the landowner had received sunlight across adjoining property for a specified period of time, the landowner was entitled to continue to receive unobstructed access to sunlight across the adjoining property.

Rationale : American courts have taken the view that unless malice is the motive, construction of building should not be impeded just because it will block sunlight for other landowners. The 3 major reasons why courts have taken this view are: 1. to protect the right of landowners to use their property as the desire as long as the use does not render physical damage to neighbor, 2. sunlight was considered to be useful for only aesthetic purposes, 3. in our developing nation, society had great interest in not impeding or regulating development. But according to the court, these three reasons reflect factual circumstances and social priorities that are now obsolete. Now the society regulates the use of landowners for the general welfare. Secondly, sunlight has taken new roles in people’s lives (e.g. plaintiff using sunlight for energy). Thirdly, the need for rapid development is no longer present. Therefore, “the courts should not implement obsolete policies that have lost their vigor over the course of the years. According to the court, the law of private nuisance is more suitable for this case than a strict rigid rule that recognizes no rights in sunlight. Therefore the court remanded the case for the jury to use the reasonable test to balance the interests of the plaintiff and the defendant.

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