Prah v. Maretti


Plaintiff owns a series of solar panels on his roof.  Defendant purchased the lot next to him and planned to build a home that would block direct sunlight onto the panels.  Plaintiff learned of the plans, informed the Defendant that it would “substantially and adversely affect the integrity of plaintiff’s solar panel system and could cause plaintiff other damage.”  Defendant constructed the system regardless.  Plaintiff’s complaint states he is entitled to “unrestricted use of the sun and its solar power.”  Defendant argues that he has a right to construct his property as he sees fit in compliance with all rules and applicable laws, without regard to Plaintiff’s access to sunlight.


“Whether an owner of a solar-heated residence states a claim upon which relief can be granted when he asserts that his neighbor’s proposed construction of a residence interferes with his access to an unobstructed path for sunlight across the neighbor’s property.”


Restatement of Torts:  “a nonrespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land” is a private nuisance.


Yes.  Defendant is essentially claiming that he has a right to his property up the sky and down to the center of the earth.  However, this isn’t entirely correct.  “At English common law a landowner could acquire a right to receive sunlight across adjoining land by both express agreement and under the judge-made doctrine of ancient lights.”  This doctrine stated that the adjacent landowner could be adjoined for blocking his neighbor’s access to light.

Society “has increasingly regulated the use of land by the landowner for the general welfare… access to sunlight has taken on a new significance in recent years as a source of energy … the policy of favoring unhindered private development in an expanding economy is no longer in harmony with the realities of our society.”  Recognition of the Plaintiff’s right to bring a claim against an unreasonable blockage of sunlight will not hinder the use of adjoining land and will promote reasonable use and enjoyment under a modern rule.


This decision is best left to the legislature. “What is desirable or advisable or ought to be is a question of policy, not a question of fact.”  The blockage of sunlight is not an “invasion” envisioned by the restatement.  Building a home in compliance with all existing rules and laws is not an “invasion.”  Moreover, there is a rule that to constitute a nuisance, Defendant’s conduct must be “intentional and unreasonable.”  There is nothing unreasonable about Defendant’s conduct.  Moreover, the restatement’s commentary section states “if normal persons in that locality would not be substantially annoyed or disturbed by the situation, then the invasion is not a significant one, even though the idiosyncrasies of the particular plaintiff may make it endurable to him.”

Leave a Reply