I have been following the case of New York businessman Paul Ceglia suing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with interest and growing amusement.
In case you’re not up to speed, Ceglia is claiming 84% ownership of Facebook based on 2003 documents when he hired Zuckerberg as a programmer. He has produced check stubs but is yet to produce the original contract. Zuckerberg doesn’t deny having worked for Ceglia but says it had nothing to do with his Facebook venture, which didn’t even exist at the time.
I’m sure it’s serious stuff for the parties involved but to a neutral bystander like me, it is really quite entertaining. In the latest twist, chronicled in the Wall Street Journal, Ceglia has claimed that Zuckerberg is not a resident of California because he lives out of a duffel bag. Except I think the duffel bag is meant to be metaphorical.
Zuckerberg has lived in California, within walking distance of Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, since 2004. This is where he pays taxes, votes and has his car registered. Most people would think this made him a resident. But it’s far more convenient for Buffalo-based Ceglia if his opponent is also a New York resident, because it means the case can be heard at state level and the federal court has no jurisdiction.
So James Grable, Ceglia’s lawyer, has pointed to a 2004 Massachusetts court ruling, involving a separate case, that demonstrated that Zuckerberg was legally a resident of New York at that time. He argues that there was little evidence that anything had changed in the past six years. “He was living the same sort of existence the evidence shows now, a sort of duffel bag, apartment-to-apartment, transient life,” Grable said. “He’s got one foot in New York and one foot in California.”
Grable claimed that Zuckerberg could always return to live in his parents’ home back East – which of course, every 26-year-old billionaire is just dying to do. He argued that Zuckerberg’s life had not changed much because he did not own any property in California and his rental agreement was only month to month. He also wondered why Zuckerberg made a $100 million donation to the Newark school system, if he didn’t feel New York was his home. (Of course, Newark is actually in New Jersey but this point was conveniently ignored).
U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara is yet to make a decision on whether to hear or dismiss the case.
Lawyers for Zuckerberg called the lawsuit a “fraud” and dismissed their opponents’ attempt for further hearings on the matter as “harassment”. Orin Synder said in court that Zuckerberg was “a 26-year-old man who has spent almost a quarter of his life building this company. There’s not a shred of evidence that he is living out of a duffel bag anywhere, period.”
Of course, I’m sure Zuckerberg could afford better luggage.