HULL, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiff Stacy Allen Draper sued Defendant Deputy Sheriff Clinton D. Reynolds, individually, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, for civil rights violations arising out of a traffic stop and arrest. The district court granted summary judgment for Reynolds on the federal claims and remanded the state law claims to state court. We affirm.
A. The Traffic Stop
At approximately 11:30 p.m. on July 19, 2001, Deputy Sheriff Clinton D. Reynolds ("Reynolds") stopped a tractor trailer truck (the "truck") driven by Plaintiff Stacy Allen Draper ("Draper"). While on patrol for the Sheriff's Office of Coweta County, Georgia, Reynolds observed Draper's truck traveling northbound on I-85 and stopped the truck allegedly because its tag light was not appropriately illuminated under Georgia law.
After Draper pulled his truck to the side of the interstate, Reynolds stopped his patrol car directly behind the truck. Reynolds on foot approached the passenger side of the truck cab, as was his practice in all roadside stops. When Reynolds reached the truck cab, the engine was running, the passenger window was closed, and the cab was illuminated briefly by an interior light but then became dark. Draper observed Reynolds at the passenger side and believed that Reynolds was performing an inspection of the vehicle. From the passenger side, Reynolds shined his flashlight at the truck cab twice.
For summary judgment purposes, we accept Draper's version of what happened.
Reynolds then instructed Draper to meet him behind the truck, a location in view of a police camera that Reynolds had activated in his patrol car.
The video camera in the patrol car recorded Draper's and Reynolds's speech and actions behind the truck.
Reynolds repeatedly asked Draper to stop yelling and informed Draper that he would be taken to jail if he continued to yell. Reynolds told Draper that he also needed Draper's log book and bill of lading. Draper began to walk toward the truck cab while asking Reynolds if he needed anything else, but then turned around and loudly accused Reynolds of harassing him. Reynolds replied that he needed Draper's license and insurance.
Draper handed his license to Reynolds and again began walking to the truck cab, but turned around when Reynolds told him for the second time to retrieve his bill of lading, proof of insurance, and log book. Draper still did not go to the truck cab but instead walked back toward Reynolds and accused him again of harassment.
For the third time, Reynolds told Draper to get the requested items, and Draper responded by exclaiming, "How `bout you just go ahead and take me to fucking jail, then, man, you know, because I'm not going to kiss your damn ass because you're a police officer." Reynolds instructed Draper to calm down, but Draper protested loudly that he was calm. Reynolds explained that he believed Draper's actions were "threatening" and "putting [Reynolds] on the defensive."
For the fourth time, Reynolds told Draper to retrieve the requested documents. Draper did not move to the truck cab to get them and loudly complained that Reynolds was treating him like a "child" and disrespecting him. Reynolds replied that he had not disrespected Draper, and then he signaled to his back up, which had just arrived, with his flashlight. Draper continued to yell and accuse Reynolds of disrespecting him.
For the fifth time, Reynolds told Draper to retrieve the documents and then promptly discharged his taser gun at Draper's chest. Draper fell to the ground out of the police camera's view. Reynolds told Draper to stay on the ground and threatened to discharge the taser gun again if Draper did not comply. Reynolds then yelled to his back-up officer who had just arrived: "Handcuff this son of a
After the other officers arrived and Draper was arrested, Reynolds stated to the officers that he thought Draper was going "to fight me" and that he pulled Draper over for a tag light violation. At the end of the video, the police camera focused on the area of the tag, while Reynolds again explained that he pulled Draper over for a tag light violation. Draper properly points out that at the end of the video, all of his truck's rear lights were turned off and were not shining, and thus the video does not establish conclusively that his tag light was out.
As noted in his incident report, Reynolds charged Draper with obstruction of an officer, in violation of Ga.Code Ann. § 16-10-24, and with having an improperly illuminated taillight, in violation of Ga.Code Ann. § 40-8-23.
B. Procedural History
Draper filed suit against Reynolds individually in the State Court of Coweta County, Georgia under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. Draper's complaint contends that Reynolds improperly stopped him, falsely arrested him, and used excessive force in his arrest, all in violation of his constitutional rights and state law. Reynolds removed the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Draper then filed a "Motion to Disqualify United States District Court Judge Jack T. Camp as Judge in This Case," which the district court denied. Reynolds moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court granted Reynolds's motion for summary judgment with regard to the federal claims. The district court remanded the state law claims to state court. Draper appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment and its denial of his disqualification motion.
II. Standard of Review
We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity and apply the same legal standards as the district court. Durruthy v. Pastor, 351 F.3d 1080, 1084 (11th Cir.2003). "We resolve all issues of material fact in favor of the plaintiff, and then determine the legal question of whether the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity under that version of the facts." Id.
A. Qualified Immunity
To determine whether Reynolds is entitled to qualified immunity, we apply a two-part inquiry. First, applying the facts in the light most favorable to Draper, we must ascertain whether Reynolds violated
B. Probable Cause for Traffic Stop
Draper sues Reynolds for stopping his truck in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Draper contends that Reynolds's reason for stopping Draper — that the tag light on Draper's truck was not adequately illuminated — was pretextual. According to Draper, Reynolds stopped his truck because Draper was African American and Reynolds wanted to search vehicles for drugs with the hope of having vehicles forfeited to the Sheriff of Coweta County.
As the district court correctly noted, the Supreme Court and this Court previously rejected the use of such pretextual-stop analysis and concluded that ulterior motives will not invalidate police conduct based on probable cause to believe a violation of the law occurred. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 812-13, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 1774, 135 L.Ed.2d 89 (1996); United States v. Holloman, 113 F.3d 192, 194 (11th Cir.1997). Indeed, this Court in Holloman rejected a very similar pretextual-stop argument. 113 F.3d at 194. In Holloman, a St. Petersburg, Florida detective stopped Holloman's pickup truck because the truck's tag light was not properly illuminated under Florida law. Id. at 193. Under the St. Petersburg police department's drug interdiction operation, after a vehicle was stopped for a traffic violation, the detectives either would conduct a consensual search of the vehicle or would summon a narcotics detection canine to sniff the exterior of the vehicle. Id. After Holloman refused to consent to a search, a narcotics canine sniffed his vehicle and alerted to drugs, which were found in the vehicle. Id. Holloman was indicted with possession and intent to distribute narcotics. Id. at 193-94. Holloman moved to suppress the evidence of drugs, arguing that the traffic stop was "`unreasonably pretextual and unconstitutional.'" Id. at 194.
This Court in Holloman noted that the Supreme Court's decision in Whren "squarely rejected the pretextual stop analysis that had prevailed previously in the Eleventh Circuit." Id. This Court explained that, under Whren, "the constitutional `reasonableness' of a traffic stop must be determined irrespective of `intent,' whether of the particular officer involved or of the theoretical `reasonable officer.'" Id. (quoting Whren, 517 U.S. at 811-16, 116 S.Ct. at 1773-76). We further explained that Whren "conclusively refutes the notion that ulterior motives may invalidate police conduct that is justified on the basis of probable cause to believe that a violation of law has occurred." Id. at 194. In Holloman, this Court concluded that because the detectives "possessed probable cause to believe that a traffic violation had occurred," the stop complied with the Fourth Amendment regardless of their desire to intercept drugs.
Thus, the only question for purposes of examining the constitutionality of Reynolds' stop is: Did Reynolds have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation had occurred? Under Georgia law, a tag must be illuminated with a white light so that it is legible from fifty feet to
C. Probable Cause to Arrest Draper
Even if the stop was constitutional, Draper contends that Reynolds violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him. Probable cause to arrest exists "`when the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge, of which he or she has reasonably trustworthy information, would cause a prudent person to believe, under the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.'" Durruthy, 351 F.3d at 1088 (quoting McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir.2003)). As discussed earlier, Reynolds had probable cause to stop Draper for a tag light violation, and that probable cause was also sufficient to permit Reynolds to arrest Draper for that violation. Thus, we now focus on the obstruction-of-justice charge.
Under Georgia law, it is unlawful to knowingly and willfully obstruct or hinder any law enforcement officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties. Ga.Code Ann. § 16-10-24(a).
D. Excessive Force
Draper also asserts that Reynolds used excessive force in effectuating the arrest by discharging a taser gun at Draper's chest. Draper argues that Reynolds did not need to use any force in arresting him because Draper gladly would have complied with Reynolds's arrest requests if Reynolds had just verbally told him he was under arrest.
"The Fourth Amendment's freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures encompasses the plain right to be free from the use of excessive force in the course of an arrest." Lee, 284 F.3d at 1197 (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394-95, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 1871, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989)). A court looks to the "totality of circumstances" to determine whether the manner of arrest was reasonable. See Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8-9, 105 S.Ct. 1694, 1700, 85 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985). "[I]n determining if force was reasonable, courts must examine (1) the need for the application of force,
In the circumstances of this case, Reynolds's use of the taser gun to effectuate the arrest of Draper was reasonably proportionate to the difficult, tense and uncertain situation that Reynolds faced in this traffic stop, and did not constitute excessive force. From the time Draper met Reynolds at the back of the truck, Draper was hostile, belligerent, and uncooperative. No less than five times, Reynolds asked Draper to retrieve documents from the truck cab, and each time Draper refused to comply. Rather, Draper accused Reynolds of harassing him and blinding him with the flashlight. Draper used profanity, moved around and paced in agitation, and repeatedly yelled at Reynolds. Because Draper repeatedly refused to comply with Reynolds's verbal commands, starting with a verbal arrest command was not required in these particular factual circumstances. More importantly, a verbal arrest command accompanied by attempted physical handcuffing, in these particular factual circumstances, may well have, or would likely have, escalated a tense and difficult situation into a serious physical struggle in which either Draper or Reynolds would be seriously hurt. Thus, there was a reasonable need for some use of force in this arrest.
Although being struck by a taser gun is an unpleasant experience, the amount of force Reynolds used — a single use of the taser gun causing a one-time shocking — was reasonably proportionate to the need for force and did not inflict any serious injury. Indeed, the police video shows that Draper was standing up, handcuffed, and coherent shortly after the taser gun stunned and calmed him. The single use of the taser gun may well have prevented a physical struggle and serious harm to either Draper or Reynolds. Under the "totality of the circumstances," Reynolds's use of the taser gun did not constitute excessive force, and Reynolds did not violate Draper's constitutional rights in this arrest.
E. Recusal Motion
Plaintiff Draper also appeals the district court's denial of his motion seeking its
1. Section 455
Draper argues that Judge Camp's presiding over his case violates 28 U.S.C. §§ 455(a), (b)(1), (b)(4), and (b)(5). Section 455 provides, in relevant part:
28 U.S.C. § 455 (emphasis added).
First, Draper asserts that Judge Camp's reduction of his attorney's fees in a previous case establishes bias against Draper's counsel, requiring recusal under §§ 455(a) and (b)(1). The United States Supreme Court has instructed that "judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion." Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555, 114 S.Ct. 1147, 1157, 127 L.Ed.2d 474 (1994). Liteky makes clear that a judge's decision to "benefit" one party over another in a previous judicial proceeding, without more, can never form the basis of a § 455(a) recusal motion unless the decision displays a "deep-seated favoritism or antagonism that would make fair judgment impossible." Id. Draper has cited no facts indicating that Judge Camp's reduction of Draper's counsel's fees evinces such favoritism or antagonism. We further note that "bias against a lawyer, even if found to exist, without more is not bias against his client." In re Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., 861 F.2d 1307, 1314 (2d Cir.1988). Thus, Judge Camp's previous ruling clearly does not require recusal under § 455(a) or (b)(1).
Second, Draper argues that Judge Camp's ownership interest in real property located in Coweta County requires his disqualification under §§ 455(a), (b)(4), and (b)(5). Draper asserts that Judge Camp seeks to curry favor with Coweta County and the Coweta County Commissioners because (1) he filed a zoning application in the past and (2) at some point he may file another zoning application that, if granted, would increase the value of his real property.
We conclude that Judge Camp's ownership interest in property in Coweta County
We note that our conclusion is consistent with that reached by the Committee on the Codes of Conduct of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Committee addressed a similar situation under Canon 3C of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which contains language almost identical to the relevant provisions of § 455.
This Court is not bound by the opinions of the Committee on Judicial Codes of Conduct. In the past, however, courts have considered those opinions to some extent.
Although Coweta County and the Coweta County Commissioners are not parties to this case, Draper also alleges
Third, there is no merit in Draper's assertion that Judge Camp's previous affiliation with the Glover & Davis law firm suggests bias. Although Asa Powell, the current Coweta County Attorney, is a member of that firm, Judge Camp has not been affiliated with Glover & Davis for over 15 years.
Finally, Draper asserts in effect that Judge Camp is a racist. Draper sets forth no facts to support these allegations. Draper's unsupported, inflammatory allegations alone would not cause a reasonable person to question Judge Camp's impartiality and do not entitle him to a new judge.
2. Section 144
Draper also asserts that Judge Camp was disqualified under 28 U.S.C. § 144. Section 144 provides, in relevant part:
28 U.S.C. § 144 (emphasis added). Draper's motion to disqualify Judge Camp under § 144 fails for the same reasons it fails under § 455. Draper presents no evidence that Judge Camp harbored a "personal bias or prejudice either against him or in favor of any adverse party." 28
For all these reasons, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Reynolds on Draper's federal claims, its remand of Draper's state law claims to the state court, and its denial of Draper's motion to disqualify the district court judge.
Draper: [Inaudible] Man, I don't know. I can't see no more.
Reynolds: Got your driver's license?
Draper: Yeah. I got my driver's license.
Reynolds: What's wrong?
Draper: Man, you're shining and blinding me, you know.... [Inaudible]
Reynolds: I'm shining at you to come out.
Draper: You ain't saying nothing. You just....
Reynolds: You got the window up.
Draper: Whatever. Of course I can't. All I see is somebody standing there.
Reynolds: Look, you got the wrong answers out here, sir.
Draper: No I don't ... [Inaudible] I just got ... [Inaudible] in my eyes ...
Reynolds: Quit yelling at me. Quit yelling at me.
Draper: I ain't doing nothing wrong. I'm just going down the road, minding my own business.
Reynolds: You don't know why I stopped you. And if you keep yelling at me, you're going to be in jail.
Draper: Oh, for what? Now I'm going to go to jail for what?
Reynolds: Cause of the way you're acting out here ...
Draper: Answer my question.
Reynolds: ... You're not going to sit here and yell at me, sir. I'm going to tell you that right now.
Draper: Oh, but you'll let another guy ... [Inaudible] with a ... I ain't even going to go there ... [Inaudible] all right ... here ...
Reynolds: Now I need your log book. I need your bill of lading.
Draper: [Begins to walk toward truck cab, then turns back.] You need anything else? I don't know why you're harassing me. You're, first of all, I guess you're ... [Inaudible]
Reynolds: Let me see your driver's license and your insurance.
Draper: ... Picking on me or something ... I don't know ... [Inaudible] Maybe, what ... [Inaudible] I don't know what your problem is ... [Inaudible]
Reynolds: Sir, you need to go get your bill of lading and your proof of insurance. And bring it back to me. I also need your log book.
Reynolds: I also need your log book, sir.
Draper: [Inaudible] ... I'll bring everything you need, okay?
Reynolds: Sir, you're going to. Thanks.
Draper: Oh, I know, and I will. But I don't understand what your problem is with me. You see, because I think you're harassing me.
Reynolds: I think you need to go get what I asked you to get, sir.
Draper: How bout you just go ahead and take me to fucking jail, then, man, you know, because I'm not going to kiss your damn ass because you're a police officer. I'm a law abiding ... [Inaudible]
Reynolds: You need to calm down, sir.
Draper: I am calm. I am calm.
Reynolds: No you're not.
Draper: I am calm.
Reynolds: No you're not. You're ... [Inaudible] yelling at me and you're threatening me.
Draper: No, I'm not threatening you ... [Inaudible] Why you saying I'm threatening you? Did I say I was going to hurt you or something?
Reynolds: You ain't going to. I'm not worried about that.
Reynolds: Cause of the way you're acting. You're putting me on the defensive.
Draper: How am I acting? I'm ... [Inaudible]
Reynolds: I asked you to go get what I asked you to get, sir.
Draper: [Inaudible] ... talking to me as if I'm a little child or something ... [Inaudible] That's what I'm talking about ... [Inaudible] have no respect for the public out here or something ... [Inaudible]
Reynolds: I haven't disrespected you, sir.
Draper: You did. You ... [Inaudible] shining a light in my face ...
Reynolds: Sir ...
Draper: ... get out of the truck ...
Reynolds: Go get what I asked you to get now, sir.
Ga.Code. Ann. § 40-8-23(d).
Code of Conduct for United States Judges Canon 3C(1) (2003).