Penny Wise But Pound Foolish. Serving as Your Company’s Registered Agent Can Be Costly in the Long Run

Huffman Asset Management, LLC v. Colter
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-22-00779-CV (November 8, 2023)
Justices Partida-Kipness (Opinion, linked here), Reichek, and Breedlove
Entities that do business in Texas, like corporations and limited liability companies, must “designate and continuously maintain” a registered agent and a registered office to be served with process. For around $100 annually, an entity can hire a company to serve as its registered agent and provide an address for its registered office. A business owner who faces ever-increasing expenses may be tempted to save costs by personally serving as his or her business’s registered agent and listing the business’s current address as its registered office. But this decision can prove perilous, as it did in this case.

The Colters claimed their apartment was infested by insects and sued their landlord, Prairie Capital, LLC, and its property management company, Huffman Asset Management, LLC. Both entities listed Douglas Huffman as their registered agent. Public filings for Prairie Capital listed a house in Highland Village as its registered office, and Huffman Management’s filing listed an office in Dallas as its registered office. But when the Colters tried to serve Huffman at these addresses, a bank occupied the address listed for Huffman Management and their process server was told Huffman had sold the Highland Village house.

Unable to serve Huffman, the Colters served the Secretary of State, as Texas law allows when a registered agent cannot be located at the registered office. The Secretary of State must then send notice to the “most recent address of the entity on file with the secretary of state” via certified mail. Tex. Bus. Orgs. Code § 5.253. The Secretary of State issued certificates confirming that it forwarded the documents the Colters served to the Highland Village house for Huffman Management and the Dallas office for Prairie Capital and that it later received the documents back “Return to Sender.”

The Colters then obtained a default judgment. The trial court sent a Notice of Default Judgment to the defendants at a Dallas address on San Jacinto Street, which the Colters listed as the defendants’ last known mailing address but was not either defendant’s registered office. The defendants appeared and moved for a new trial. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed.

On appeal, the defendants argued the Colters’ service on the Secretary of State was invalid because they gave the Secretary of State “bad” addresses. They argued the Colters knew the San Jacinto address was the defendants’ “most recent … address on file with the secretary of state.” Tex. Bus. Orgs. Code § 5.253. The defendants pointed to public information reports filed with the Secretary of State listing the San Jacinto address as each company’s principal place of business. The court of appeals rejected this argument, reasoning that the purpose of § 5.253 and related provisions is to effect service on the designated registered agent at the designated office. The Secretary of State, according to the court, should not have to ignore an entity’s filings about its registered agent and office in favor of a more recent filing not related to service of process.

A $100 annual fee gets a company a registered agent and registered office consistently available during normal business hours at an address that will not change. While this might seem like an easy expense to eliminate because a principal of the business can serve as the registered agent, a company faces a real risk of a default judgment if its registered agent is not actually available for service or if it fails to keep its registered agent information updated with the Secretary of State.
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