Crowley v. Krylon Diversified Brands
In Crowley v. Krylon Diversified Brands, 216 W.Va. 408, 216 W. Va. 408, 607 S.E.2d 514 (2004), the plaintiff attempted to serve a summons and complaint on a foreign corporation by having the Secretary of State serve process on an agent designated for service of process.
Unknown to both the corporation and the Secretary of State, the designated agent had moved or died and the order forwarding the agent's mail to a successor had expired. The Secretary of State in Crowley sent the plaintiff's summons and complaint via certified mail to the defendant's designated agent. The certified mail was returned to the Secretary of State with a notice indicating it was not delivered for the stated reason of "Forwarding Order Expired."
The plaintiff in Crowley later obtained a default judgment against the defendant.
On appeal the Court reversed, concluding that the plaintiff had failed to obtain proper service of process as required by statute. The Court examined the statutes pertaining to service of process or notice upon foreign corporations -- W.Va. Code, 31D-15-1510 2002 and its now-repealed predecessor, W.Va. Code, 31-1-15 1997 -- and found that both statutes permitted service of process or notice to be successfully achieved only when a registered or certified mailing by the Secretary of State was returned as either accepted or "refused" by an agent or employee of the corporation.
The Court held, in the Syllabus of Crowley, that:
Under the provisions of W.Va. Code, 31-1-15 1997 and 31D-15-1510 2002, service of process on a corporation is insufficient when notice or process is mailed using registered or certified mail to an authorized corporation's listed agent by the Secretary of State, is neither accepted or refused by the agent, and the mail is returned to the Secretary of State because the notice or process is undeliverable.
In sum, service of process upon a foreign corporation through the Secretary of State is not successful when a registered or certified mailing is returned for any reason other than being accepted or refused.