Shelfer v City of London Electric Lighting Company, Meux’s Brewery Co v Same: CA 1895

The plaintiff sought damages and an injunction for nuisance by noise and vibration which was causing structural injury to a public house.
Held: The court set out the rules for when a court should not grant an injunction for an infringement of light. The fact that the wrongdoer is in some sense a public benefactor has never been considered a sufficient reason to refuse an injunction against a nuisance he creates. The Act which gave the Courts of Equity a discretion to award damages in place of an injunction did not thereby alter the rules on the grant of injunctions, and where an injunction was a proper remedy, the use of the discretion was not to be used to excuse wrong doing. A party with the benefit of a restrictive covenant is, as a general rule, entitled to an injunction on the trial of the action as distinct from an award of damages unless (1) the injury to the plaintiff’s legal rights is small, (2) it is capable of being estimated in terms of money, (3) it can adequately be compensated for by a small payment and (4) it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction.
AL Smith LJ said: ‘Many judges have stated, and I emphatically agree with them, that a person by committing a wrongful act (whether it be a public company for public purposes or a private individual) is not thereby entitled to ask the court to sanction his doing so by purchasing his neighbour’s rights, by assessing damages in that behalf, leaving his neighbour with the nuisance, or his lights dimmed, as the case may be.
In such cases the well known rule is not to accede to the application, but to grant the injunction sought, for the plaintiff’s legal right has been invaded, and he is prima facie entitled to an injunction.
There are, however, cases in which this rule may be relaxed, and in which the damages may be awarded in substitution for an injunction as authorized by this section. In any instance in which a case for an injunction has been made out, if the plaintiff by his acts or laches has disentitled himself to an injunction the court may award damages in its place. So again, whether the case be for a mandatory injunction or to restrain a continuing nuisance, the appropriate remedy may be damages in lieu of an injunction, assuming a case for an injunction to be made out. In my opinion, it may be stated as a good working rule that – (1) If the injury to the plaintiff’s legal rights is small, (2) And is one which is capable of being estimated in money, (3) And is one which can be adequately compensated by a small money payment, (4) And the case is one in which it would be oppressive to the defendant to grant an injunction: – then damages in substitution for an injunction may be given.

There may also be cases in which, though the four above-mentioned requirements exist, the defendant by his conduct, as, for instance, hurrying up his buildings so as if possible to avoid an injunction, or otherwise acting with reckless disregard to the plaintiff’s rights, has disentitled himself from asking that damages may be assessed in substitution for an injunction. It is impossible to lay down any rule as to what, under the differing circumstances of each case, constitutes either a small injury, or one that can be estimated in money, or what is a small money payment, or an adequate compensation, or what would be oppressive to the defendant. This must be left to the good sense of the tribunal which deals with each case as it comes up for adjudication. For instance, an injury to the plaintiff’s legal right to light to a window in a cottage represented by andpound;15 might well be held to be not small but considerable; whereas a similar injury to a warehouse or other large building represented by ten times that amount might be held to be inconsiderable. Each case must be decided upon its own facts; but to escape the rule it must be brought within the exception. In the present case it appears to me that the injury to the plaintiff is certainly not small; nor is it in my judgment capable of being estimated in money, or of being adequately compensated by a small money payment.’
Lindley LJ said: ‘Ever since Lord Cairns’ Act was passed the Court of Chancery has repudiated the notion that the Legislature intended to turn that court into a tribunal for legalizing wrongful acts: or in other words, the Court has always protested against the notion that it ought to allow a wrong to continue simply because the wrondgoer is able and willing to pay for the injury he may inflict. Neither has the circumstance that the wrondoer is in some sense a public benefactor (eg a gas or water company or a sewer authority) ever been considered a sufficient reason for refusing to protect by injunction an individual whose rights are being persistently infringed. Expropriation, even for a money consideration, is only justifiable when Parliament has sanctioned it.’ and

‘Without denying the jurisdiction to award damages instead of an injunction, even in cases of continuing actionable nuisances, such jurisdiction ought not to be exercised in such cases except under very exceptional circumstances. I will not attempt to specify them, or to lay down rules for the exercise of judicial discretion. It is sufficient to refer, by way of example, to trivial and occasional nuisances: cases in which a plaintiff has shown that he only wants money; vexatious and oppressive cases; and cases where the plaintiff has so conducted himself as to render it unjust to give him more than pecuniary relief. In all such cases as these, and in all others where an action for damages is really an adequate remedy – as where the acts complained of are already finished – an injunction can be properly refused.’

Lindley LJ, A L Smith LJ
[1895] 1 Ch 287, [1891-4] All ER Rep 838, (1895) 64 LJ Ch 216, (1895) 72 LT 34, (1895) 12 R 112
Chancery Amendment Act 1858 (Lord Cairns’ Act)
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedDennis and Dennis v Ministry of Defence QBD 16-Apr-2003
The applicants owned a substantial property near an airbase. They complained that changes in the patterns of flying by the respondents were a nuisance and sought damages. Walcot Hall was subjected to very high noise levels from military aircraft. . .
AppliedKennaway v Thompson CA 30-Apr-1980
The plaintiff’s property adjoined the defendant’s boating lake over which the defendant had, over several years, come to run more and more motor boat sports events. The trial judge had found that the noise created by the racing was an actionable . .
CitedMidtown Ltd v City of London Real Property Company Ltd ChD 20-Jan-2005
Tenants occupied land next to land which was to be developed after compulsory acquisition. The tenants and the landlords asserted a right of light over the land, and sought an injunction to prevent the development. The developer denied that any . .
CitedJaggard v Sawyer and Another CA 18-Jul-1994
Recovery of damages after Refusal of Injunction
The plaintiff appealed against the award of damages instead of an injunction aftter the County court had found the defendant to have trespassed on his land by a new building making use of a private right of way.
Held: The appeal failed.
CitedWrotham Park Estate Ltd v Parkside Homes Ltd ChD 1974
55 houses had been built by the defendant, knowingly in breach of a restrictive covenant, imposed for the benefit of an estate, and in the face of objections by the claimant.
Held: The restrictive covenant not to develop other than in . .
CitedFeakins and Another v Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Civ 1513) CA 9-Dec-2005
The department complained that the defendants had entered into a transaction with their farm at an undervalue so as to defeat its claim for recovery of sums due. The transaction used the grant of a tenancy by the first chargee.
Held: The . .
CitedSmall v Oliver and Saunders (Developments) Ltd ChD 25-May-2006
The claimant said his property had the benefit of covenants in a building scheme so as to allow him to object to the building of an additional house on a neighbouring plot in breach of a covenant to build only one house on the plot. Most but not all . .
CitedKine v Jolly CA 1905
The court refused an injunction in respect of an infringement of the right to light to a dwelling house, restricting the plaintiff to a remedy in damages. Cozens-Hardy LJ: ‘I think it is impossible to doubt that the tendency of the speeches in the . .
CitedFederated Homes Ltd v Mill Lodge Properties Ltd CA 29-Nov-1979
Covenents Attach to entire land not just parts
Conveyances contained restrictive covenants but they were not expressly attached to the land. The issue was whether they were merely personal.
Held: Section 78 made the covenant by the purchaser binding on his successors also. The section . .
CitedTurner and Another v Pryce and others ChD 9-Jan-2008
The claimants asserted that they had the benefit of restrictive covenants under a building scheme to prevent the defendants erecting more houses in their neighbouring garden. The defendants pointed to alleged breaches of the same scheme by the . .
CitedJacklin and Another v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire CA 16-Feb-2007
The claimants asserted a vehicular right of way over land belonging to the defendant poilce authority. The defendant said that it had been abandoned. The judge found that it had not been and granted an injunction to prevent the defendants . .
CitedLudlow Music Inc v Williams and others ChD 2-Oct-2000
The claimant sought damages for copyright infringement in respect of two works which parodied a song to which they owned the rights.
Held: The amount copied, being as much as a quarter of the original work, meant that the claim was . .
CitedBanks v EMI Songs Ltd (No.2) ChD 1996
Jacob J referred to the judgment of AL Smith LJ in Shelfer, and granted an injunction, even though he was not able to say that a small sum of money would be adequate compensation. The ‘checklist’ in that judgment was not an exhaustive statement and . .
CitedWatson and others v Croft Promo-Sport Ltd CA 26-Jan-2009
The claimants were neighbours of the Croft motor racing circuit. They alleged nuisance in the levels of noise emanating from the site. The defendants denied nuisance saying that the interference was deemed reasonable since they operated within the . .
CitedFisher v Brooker and Others HL 30-Jul-2009
The claimant sought a share in the royalties from the song ‘A whiter shade of pale’ but had delayed his claim for 38 years. He had contributed the organ solo which had contributed significantly to the song’s success. He now sought a share of future . .
CitedACCO Properties Ltd v Severn and Another ChD 1-Apr-2011
The parties disputed the boundary between their respective plots.
Held: Simon Barker QC J set out (and then applied) the principles for resolving boundary lines: ‘1 Where, as in this case, the property in question is registered land, the file . .
CitedSlack v Leeds Industrial Co-operative Society Ltd CA 1924
Nothing in Colls served to undermine the ‘good working rule’ of A L Smith LJ in Shelfer, although they discharged a quia timet injunction and ordered an inquiry as to damages . .
CitedCoventry and Others v Lawrence and Another SC 26-Feb-2014
C operated a motor racing circuit as tenant. The neighbour L objected that the noise emitted by the operations were a nuisance. C replied that the fact of his having planning consent meant that it was not a nuisance.
Held: The neighbour’s . .
ExplainedFishenden v Higgs and Hill Ltd CA 1935
An injunction had been refused an injunction in respect of an infringement of an easement of light and awarded damages in lieu, even though the damages would be substantial because it had been shown that the plaintiff was plainly ‘only wanting . .
CitedHKRUK II (CHC) Ltd v Heaney ChD 3-Sep-2010
The claimant sought a declaration that its property was free of a suggested right of light in favour of its neighbour . .
CitedRegan v Paul Properties Ltd and others CA 26-Oct-2006
The court considered the appropriate remedy after a finding of infringement of a right to light, and in particular: ‘whether the proper remedy for infringement in this case is damages for nuisance, as ordered by the court below, or whether a . .
CitedMiller v Jackson CA 6-Apr-1977
The activities of a long established cricket club had been found to be a legal nuisance, because of the number of cricket balls landing in the gardens of neighbouring houses. An injunction had been granted to local householders who complained of . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Nuisance, Damages, Land

Leading Case

Updated: 22 December 2021; Ref: scu.182118