An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA05-62

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 1 November 2005

HOA TRAN,
    Plaintiff,

v .                         Guilford County
                            No. 03 CVS 5480
HANG NGUYEN,
    Defendant.

    Appeal by defendant from judgment entered 4 October 2004 by Judge Michael E. Helms in Guilford County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 15 September 2005.

    Robertson, Medlin & Troutman, PLLC by Stephen E. Robertson, for plaintiff-appellee.

    John W. Lunsford for defendant-appellant.

    LEWIS, Judge.

    Hang Nguyen (“defendant”) appeals an order of the trial court imposing sanctions by striking defendant's answer to the complaint and awarding Hoa Tran (“plaintiff”) attorney fees. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the trial court's order.
    The pertinent facts of the case are as follows: Plaintiff commenced this action on 27 March 2003 by filing a complaint for alienation of affections. In September 2003, plaintiff served interrogatories and a request for documents on defendant. Defendant obtained an extension of time to answer and then submitted a one-page invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege.On 18 August 2004, plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions against defendant pursuant to Rule 11 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The attorney of record for defendant filed a motion to withdraw on 28 April 2004; however, that motion was not calendared for hearing. On 4 October 2004, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion for sanctions and entered an order striking defendant's answer and awarding plaintiff $3,000.00 in attorney fees. Defendant appeals.

_____________________________
    The issues on appeal are: (I) whether the trial court erred in imposing Rule 11 sanctions; and (II) whether the trial court abused its discretion in striking defendant's answer to the complaint and awarding plaintiff attorney fees.
    “The trial court's decision to impose or not to impose mandatory sanctions under N.C.G.S. § 1A-1, Rule 11(a) is reviewable de novo . . . .” Turner v. Duke University, 325 N.C. 152, 165, 381 S.E.2d 706, 714 (1989). Appellate court review involves a three- prong analysis: (1) whether there is sufficient evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact; (2) whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law; and (3) whether the conclusions of law support the judgment or order. Id. “If the appellate court makes these three determinations in the affirmative, it must uphold the trial court's decision to impose or deny the imposition of mandatory sanctions under N.C.G.S. § 1A-1, Rule 11(a).” Id.     Rule 11(a) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part:

        Every pleading, motion, and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record. . . . . The signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading, motion, or other paper; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. If a pleading, motion, or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, shall impose upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, motion, or other paper, including a reasonable attorney's fee.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 11(a). “According to Rule 11, the signer certifies that three distinct things are true: the pleading is (1) well grounded in fact; (2) warranted by existing law . . . (legal sufficiency); and (3) not interposed for any improper purpose.” Bryson v. Sullivan, 330 N.C. 644, 655, 412 S.E.2d 327, 332 (1992).
    At issue in the instant case is whether defendant's answer was well grounded in fact. The trial court found the following facts:
        1. That the Plaintiff filed a verified Complaint complaining of alienation of affection in the above-entitled action in the District Court Division (and subsequentlymoved to the Superior Court Division), Judicial District Eighteen, Guilford County on or about the 27th day of March, 2003.

        2. That the Defendant, through her attorney, filed an answer to the Complaint on or about the 10th day of July, 2003.

        3. That the answer consisted of the statement "Denied"; repeated fifteen times, once for each paragraph in the Complaint.

        4. That the Defendant and the Defendant's attorney, either knew or should have to [sic] known, at the time of filing of the answer, that at least some of the averments in the verified Complaint were true.

        5. That on or about the 24th day of September, 2003, the Plaintiff served upon the Defendant, through her attorney, Interrogatories and Request for Documents.

        6. That the Defendant obtained an extension of time to answer, then submitted a one-page Invocation of 5th Amendment Privilege.

    In making those findings of fact, the trial court had before it the verified pleadings of record, including the defendant's answer to the complaint and the plaintiff's motion for sanctions. The motion contained the following uncontroverted assertions:
        4. That the Defendant knows, and knew at the time of filing of the answer, that at least some of the averments in the verified Complaint are and were true. By way of illustration:

            (a) paragraph 1 states that "[t]he Plaintiff is a citizen of Viet Nam and resident of Greensboro, Guilford County, North Carolina and is neither an infant incompetent."

            (b) paragraph 3 states that [t]he Plaintiff was married to Dai Nguyen in Viet Nam in 1962."            (c) paragraph 4 states that ". . . the Defendant is the niece of Dai Nguyen, Plaintiff's husband."

            (d) paragraph 5 states that "[f]ive children were born of the marriage between the Plaintiff and Plaintiff's husband."
        These statements are assertions of simple facts which, had defendant made reasonable inquiry as required by the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 11(a) she, or her attorney, would not have denied said statements, or, at least, would have offered explanation of the denial.
    We conclude there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact.
    The trial court made the following conclusions of law:
        1. The Defendant and her attorney were required to respond to the Complaint and interrogatories with timely good-faith answers.

        2. The Defendant and her attorney may not deny all of the allegations generally when some of them are known to be true, or could have been determined to be true by reasonable inquiry.

        3. Pleadings not made in the good faith belief that they are supportable are sham pleadings that can be stricken.    

We hold the findings of fact support the trial court's conclusions of law and the conclusions support the order imposing sanctions.
    We next consider whether the trial court erred by striking defendant's answer to the complaint and ordering defendant to pay reasonable attorney fees.
            In reviewing the appropriateness of the particular sanction imposed, an abuse of discretion standard is proper because the rule's provision that the court shall imposesanctions for . . . abuses concentrates the court's discretion on the selection of an appropriate sanction rather than on the decision to impose sanctions.

Davis v. Durham Mental Health/Dev. Disabilities Area Auth., 165 N.C. App. 100, 110, 598 S.E.2d 237, 244 (2004) (quotations and citations omitted). This Court recognizes that "this standard is intended to give great leeway to the trial court and a clear abuse of discretion must be shown." Central Carolina Nissan, Inc. v. Sturgis, 98 N.C. App. 253, 264, 390 S.E.2d 730, 737, disc. review denied, 327 N.C. 137, 394 S.E.2d 169 (1990). “The trial court abuses its discretion 'only upon a showing that its actions are manifestly unsupported by reason.'" Turner v. Duke University, 101 N.C. App. 276, 280, 399 S.E.2d 402, 405 (1991) (quoting White v. White, 312 N.C. 770, 777, 324 S.E.2d 829, 833 (1985)).
            Litigants in this state are required to respond to pleadings, interrogatories and requests for [documents] with timely, good faith answers. They may not deny an allegation generally when part of it is known to be true. Rule 8(b), N.C. Rules of Civil Procedure. Pleadings not made in the good faith belief that they are supportable are sham pleadings that can be stricken.

WXQR Marine Broadcasting Corp. v. JAI, Inc., 83 N.C. App. 520, 521, 350 S.E.2d 912, 913 (1986).
    In the instant case, the defendant made a general denial as to each and every allegation of the complaint. Yet, it is clear that had defendant made reasonable inquiry as required by the Rules of Civil Procedure, she would have offered an explanation of the denial, at the very least. In addition, the court found defendantmade a blanket assertion of the Fifth Amendment privilege in response to interrogatories and requests for documents. Under the facts of this case, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees and striking defendant's answer.
    Affirmed.
    Judges HUDSON and ELMORE concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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