How to Find a Registered Agent for Service of Process

Ryan Duffy
Author : Ryan Duffy
6 min read

In some cases, the process server’s job is easy and straightforward. Serving an individual involves finding where that person lives and works and then attempting to make contact with them in a public place. There, the process server can serve the individual with notice that they have been named as a defendant in a lawsuit.

Serving other defendants is not so straightforward. Although businesses can be considered legal “persons” for some purposes, they are not like human beings in significant ways. Dropping notice of a lawsuit against a business off at that company’s front desk is not sufficient to give the business notice. Instead, their registered agent must be served.

Explaining the Concept of a Registered Agent

Any discussion about service of process must also include a discussion about the purpose of rules regarding serving parties in a lawsuit. Fairness is the reason why these rules exist. Legislators and lawmakers for centuries have held that it is not fair for a party to have a judgment entered against them in a lawsuit unless that party has had a chance to know about the lawsuit and defend themselves against its allegations.

Because businesses are not flesh-and-blood people, simply leaving notice of a pending lawsuit on a company’s property has never been recognized as enough notice. Instead, a physical person must accept process for a business. However, not just any person will do. There is no guarantee that a front desk attendant or even a manager on duty will deliver the lawsuit notice to the business’s owners.

This issue illustrates why it is so important that businesses have a registered agent in every state where they could be sued. A business’ registered agent is the individual whom the business designates as being authorized to receive service of process in a particular state.

How Serving the Resident Agent Works

Once a business’s resident agent has been identified and their contact information ascertained, the process server will proceed with personally serving the resident agent as they would any other individual. Because the registered agent is someone that the business owner has designated and authorized to receive service, the law presumes that once they receive notice they will promptly deliver the notice to the appropriate individuals.

Finding a Company’s Registered Agent

Unfortunately, it may seem as if it is difficult to find a company’s registered agent. Not many businesses have a sign prominently posted on their front door identifying who their registered agent is. Some businesses may not have a registered agent who lives in the same town as the business’s headquarters are located. Nor is it required that the registered agent be a manager of the company, or even an employee.

However, discovering a business’s registered agent is not as difficult as it may initially sound. With a computer and an internet connection, anyone can locate the registered agent for a business in any state. The steps are:

Start Your Search on the State’s Secretary of State Website

Businesses that wish to operate in a particular state must ordinarily register in each state that they anticipate conducting business in. This would be in addition to the state in which they are organized and headquartered in. For some businesses, it can become quite burdensome to obtain and maintain their registration in all of the states they intend to do business.

For example, suppose a business is organized and headquartered in Nevada but it intends to open multiple satellite offices in other states like Arizona, New Mexico, and California. When it is ready to branch out and start doing businesses in these states, the business will have to register in each of these states with each state’s secretary of state. As part of this registration process, they will have to name a registered agent that can accept service of process for that business in that state.

These records are maintained by a state’s secretary of state office, so a good place to start looking for a registered agent is with that office.

Search Through the Secretary of State’s Files

Most every secretary of state’s office has an online search function that you can use to search through business filings. Use this search function to look for the name of the business whose registered agent you are seeking. Be mindful that some businesses have a public name that is different than the name they are registered under. For example, the general public knows Google, but the parent company is actually Alphabet Inc.

Find and Serve the Resident Agent

Amongst a business’s filings will be the identification of the registered agent along for an address at which the registered agent can be served.

When You Still Cannot Serve a Business

Even knowing the identity of the registered agent does not always mean you can serve a business easily. Sometimes the registered agent has moved from the address listed on the business’s paperwork, or the business has selected a new registered agent and has not filed any updated information.

In cases like this, most states allow the Secretary of State to act as a business’s registered agent and will accept service of process for the business. Before you can take this route, you must be prepared to show that you made reasonable efforts to identify the business’s true registered agent and serve that person.

Finding and Serving a Registered Agent is an Essential Skill

Identifying a business’s registered agent in your state may seem like a daunting and confusing task. However, once you know where to look for the information, it is not difficult to find. With the advent of the Internet, most every state has its business filings and records online and in an easily searchable format. This makes finding a business’s registered agent in your state a simple task.

When the registered agent cannot be located, the next step is to consider serving the Secretary of State’s office for that state. Just be certain that your process server has made a reasonable and honest effort to locate the agent before asking to serve the Secretary of State’s office.

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Ryan Duffy
Ryan Duffy

Associate Attorney

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