How to Serve Out-of-State Corporations and Limited Liability Companies
If the home office of the corporation or limited liability company (LLC) that you want to sue is not in California, you may serve the corporation in one of the following ways.
1. If the company does not have an office or store in California but is doing business in the state, you may serve its agent for service of process as registered with the Secretary of State.
Out-of-state corporations must register their agent for service of process with the California Secretary of State. To check for the name of the agent of service of process and the legal name of the corporation, click here.
2. If the company does have an office or store in California where you bought the item or service, you may have the general manager of that office or store served.
REMEMBER: Your defendant is the business, not the manager. The manager is just who you serve. See How to Serve a Business or Public Entity (Small Claims) (Form SC-104C)
3. If the out-of-state corporation (or LLC) does business in California but has not listed an agent for service of process with the Secretary of State, then the court may order that the California Secretary of State be served for the out-of-state corporation. (See California Corporation Code, Section 2111) – and note that “a foreign corporation” means both an out-of-state and out-of-country corporation.)
If you want to sue the corporation (or LLC) you have to ask the court for an order allowing you to serve the Secretary of State for the out-of-state corporation. To get the court order you have to prove to the court in your request that:
(a) You used due diligence, but could not find a designated agent for service of process, or found that the agent's authority has lapsed;
(b) You believe that the corporation does sufficient business in California to require that an agent for service be appointed. (Ads and sales promotions running within the state and specifically targeting California residents would be useful to prove this.)
NOTE: You must have the court order and Plaintiff's Claim (Form SC-100) personally served on the Secretary of State (or to an assistant to deputy secretary of state). Also, you must include a FEE payable to the Secretary of State of $50.00
The Secretary of State will serve the out-of-state corporation by forwarding the copy of the Plaintiff’s Claim (Form SC-100) to the corporation's principal executive office by registered or certified return-receipt mail.
If the Secretary of State does not have an address for the corporation's principal executive office, it notifies the corporation by forwarding the Plaintiff’s Claim (Form SC-100) in the same manner to the last designated agent for service of process.
If the Secretary of State has no valid address, it cannot do anything.
4. If none of the above work, you will have to go to the corporation’s home state to sue it there. Check to see if that state has a Small Claims Advisor to help you.
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