Prah v. Maretti
321 N.W.2d 404 (1982)

  • Prah had solar panels on his home. Later, Maretti began building a home next door to Prah. Maretti’s home would have blocked the sun so Prah’s solar panels wouldn’t work.
    • Note that Prah built his home only 10 feet away from the edge of his property, knowing that a future next door neighbor might chose to build a house that could block Prah’s sun.
  • Prah sued Maretti in order to force him to build his home further away from Prah’s property line.
    • Prah argued that Maretti’s sun-blocking house was a nuisance.
    • Maretti argued that he could do whatever he liked with his property.
      • Maretti agreed to move his home some, but not enough to satisfy Prah.
      • Maretti wanted a view of the lake, and if he moved it any further he couldn’t see the lake.
  • The Trial Court found for Maretti in summary judgment. Prah appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that since Maretti’s house conformed with zoning laws, there was no nuisance.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and ordered a trial.
    • In the past, courts have refused to consider blocking sunlight a nuisance. However, this was mainly due to the sunlight was valued only for aesthetic enjoyment.
    • The Appellate Court weighed the gravity of the harm against the utility costs. In specific, they considered:
      • Gravity of Harm:
        • The extent of the harm involved.
        • The character of the harm involved.
        • The social value of that the law attaches to the type of use or enjoyment invaded.
        • The suitability of the particular use or enjoyment invaded to the character of the locality.
        • The burden on the person harmed of avoiding the harm.
      • Utility of Conduct
        • The social value that the law attaches to the primary purpose of the conduct.
        • The suitability of the conduct to the character of the locality.
        • The impracticability of preventing or avoiding the invasion.
    • The Court found that there were questions of fact as to the gravity of harm vs. the utility costs. These are questions for a jury to decide.
      • Does the encouragement of solar power outweigh the harm to Maretti in not being able to see the lake?
  • In a dissent, it was argued that nuisance only occurs when the act is intentional and unreasonable. Also, there is liability only to those to whom it causes significant harm, the kind that would be suffered by a normal person under reasonable circumstances.
    • Was it reasonable that Prah wanted to use solar power? He could have switched to propane. Or, he could have built his home on the other side of his lot and would have avoided this problem.