Appeals court sends request for benefits back to Social Security office

July 21, 2016

A federal court in Indianapolis never should have affirmed the denial of Supplemental Security Income sought by an intellectually disabled woman because the administrative law judge’s decision was unsupported by the record, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Wednesday.

Elizabeth G. Taylor, who is in her early 20s, applied for SSI on the ground that she is intellectually disabled from full-time gainful employment. Her IQ is between 70 and 75, she functions at a middle-school level educationally, and she lives with her mother, who must help her get dressed, take her medications, and write things down so Taylor remembers how to do them. Of the experts who testified in her case, one who interviewed her questioned her ability to work; a psychologist noted “markedly diminished” working memory, but offered no opinion on whether she could work. A another psychologist who did not interview her, but relied on her application and what the other psychologist had said, concluded that she could carry out simple tasks and “manage the stresses involved with simple work.”

Judge Richard Posner, who wrote the opinion in Elizabeth G. Taylor v. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, 15-3529, disagreed, pointing out that during the one hour a week Taylor volunteered at the library, her mother had to write down instructions about what to do and the staff there hesitated giving her more assignments based on her ability.

“(T)here is no basis in the record for this assessment — no basis for thinking Taylor can carry out simple tasks in a workplace environment where she wouldn’t have a mother or a mother substitute to tell her what to do, or that she can relate to coworkers and supervisors since she’s never had a job,” he wrote. “There is also no basis for thinking her able to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods — she never has.”

The administrative law judge ignored the evidence of five witnesses, including library staff and Taylor’s mother, the court heled, as well as the “voluminous record evidence establishing that Taylor’s intellectual deficiencies disable her from working full time.” Posner pointed out the ALJ wasn’t even concentrating on the testimony or evidence at the hearing, as he twice referred in his opinion to Taylor as a male.

The matter is reversed and remanded to the Social Security Disability office for further proceedings.


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