As of January 2023, significant changes have been made to the service of process procedures within Florida.
As outlined below, businesspeople and legal professionals should know how to comply with these critical updates.
Overall, these changes to the service of process procedures demonstrate that the Florida legislature recognizes that business office needs have changed as the global economy moves to add virtual work options.
These updates to the law make it easier to effectuate the service of process while also reducing the burden and reliance on the Florida Department of State for substituted service.
Changes to Serving a Domestic or Registered Foreign Corporation
First, a domestic corporation is a corporation formed within the state of Florida, while a registered foreign corporation possesses “an active certificate of authority to transact business in this state pursuant to a record filed with the Department of State.” Fla. Stat. 48.081 § (1).
Previously, a particular organizational hierarchy needed to be followed to serve these business entities. That hierarchy has now changed under the 2023 amendments to Fla. Stat. 48.081.
The steps that now must be followed are listed below:
If the domestic or registered foreign corporation has a registered agent, the first attempt of service should be made on that registered agent.
For reference, a registered agent is a designated individual or entity that a business or corporation appoints to receive legal documents, such as service of process.
If it is not possible to serve legal documents to the registered agent of a domestic or registered foreign corporation due to the corporation no longer having a registered agent, or if the registered agent of the corporation cannot be served despite one good faith attempt, legal process can be served on one of the following alternatives:
(1) the chair of the board of directors, president, any vice president, secretary, or treasurer of the corporation; or
(2) any individual publicly listed by the corporation in its most recently updated annual report.
If, despite a good faith attempt, service of process cannot be completed as described in the steps above, and either:
(a) the only publicly listed person in the corporation’s most recent annual report is also the registered agent for whom service was initially attempted; or
(b) after a good faith attempt, service was unsuccessful on at least one publicly listed person from the corporation’s latest annual report, then, the process may be served on the Secretary of State of Florida as the corporation’s agent or through a court order.
Importantly, a court order may authorize service of process by alternative means, such as via email.
Changes to Serving Domestic or Registered Foreign Corporations with Nontraditional Offices
Over the last few years, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have been using alternatives to traditional office settings, such as virtual offices or remote work.
Changes have been made to Fla. Stat. 48.081 § (5) regarding serving corporations that use these traditional office alternatives.
If the address for the registered agent or any publicly listed person in the corporation’s latest annual report is a non-business location (e.g., residence, private mailbox, virtual office, executive office, mini-suite), the corporation can be served by leaving a copy of the process with the person in charge of that location, such as a receptionist or office manager, but only if the process server confirms that the person to be served maintains a mailbox, a virtual office, or an executive office or mini-suite at that location.
Changes to Methods of Substituted Service on Nonresident Individuals or Foreign Corporations or Business Entities
Previously, when authorized by law, substituted service could be made on a nonresident or an individual concealing their whereabouts by either delivering a copy of the process along with a fee of $8.75 to the designated public officer in person or at their office or sending the copies to the public officer via certified mail, along with the fee.
The 2023 version of Fla. Stat. 48.161 expands the scope of entities on which substituted service can be made. It now includes nonresident individuals, corporations, and other business entities incorporated or formed under the laws of any other state, territory, commonwealth, or any foreign country’s laws.
If substituted service is being made, a notice of service and a copy of the process can now be sent to the Florida Department of State via electronic transmission.
After submission to the State, the statute then requires service on the party via mail to the last known address (mail must be formal and can include FedEx or UPS), and if the parties have been regularly using email or other electronic methods of communication, the service notice and a copy of the legal process must be sent through these electronic means.
Another significant change is that prior to 2023, the party effectuating service needed to amend their complaint before utilizing substituted service.
Such an amendment is no longer required. Now, the party must file an affidavit of compliance with the Secretary of State of Florida within 40 days after the date of service.
Contact one of the litigation attorneys at AC Law today if you need support to enforce your rights in Florida courts.