Mental Retardation

A few months ago I posted a short summary of the law on mild mental retardation.  A case from the Eastern District of Tennessee illustrates some of the difficulties in applying the rules of law I posted earlier.

In Melton v. Astrue, 2010 U.S.Dist.Lexis 103791 (E.D. Tenn. Sept. 28, 2010), the plaintiff was 51 years old at the time of her application for SSDI. The plaintiff was evaluated by David Thompson at the request of her attorney.  Mr. Thompson determined that the plaintiff’s full scale IQ was 51.  The plaintiff was also evaluated by David Caye at the request of SSA.  Mr. Caye noted a full scale IQ of 58, but found the test scores invalid.  The plaintiff asserted in District Court that the ALJ erred in failing to find that the plaintiff met listing 12.05.

The District Court discussed the relevant listing and case law.  The Court cited, but did not necessarily approve, McPeek v. Sec’y of Health & Human Services, 19 F.3d 19 (6th Cir. 2004), which held that a valid IQ score within the requisite range, absent evidence to the contrary, is sufficient to establish a deficit in adaptive function during the developmental period; however, such scores are no longer sufficient when the claimant reaches age 50 to 60 or older.”

The Court ruled that because there was no specific finding by the ALJ as to whether the record supports a finding of developmental deficiencies, “whether Plaintiff’s impairments meet or equal Listing 12.05 hinges on the validity of her IQ scores.”  The Court then found that the ALJ properly determined that “both sets of IQ scores were invalid.”  The Court nevertheless noted that such a finding “does not mean Plaintiff’s real IQ scores are not within the required range of Listing 12.05.”

The Court held that the ALJ improperly substituted his own medical opinion in finding that the Plaintiff had borderline intellectual functioning.  The Court reasoned that such a finding was a medical finding not supported by the medical evidence.  However, the Court also determined that there was insufficient evidence on the Plaintiff’s actual IQ scores.  Therefore, the Court remanded the case.

The Melton decision is a strange case.  The evidence revealed two IQ scores, both in the range of 50-60, yet there was insufficient evidence on the Plaintiff’s IQ.  It is difficult to determine whether or not the Court applied the rule that a valid IQ score of recent origin is sufficient, absent evidence to the contrary, to demonstrate a deficit in adaptive functioning during the developmental period.  After not finding sufficient evidence to establish a deficit in adaptive functioning, the Court nonetheless ruled that whether or not the listing was satisfied depended upon the validity of the IQ scores.  Then, the Court, as indicated above, held there was no evidence of the plaintiff’s actual IQ score.  The Court astutely held that the ALJ essentially “played doctor” in finding the claimant suffered from borderline intellectual functioning, which describes an IQ score of 71-84.

The above decision illustrates the difficulty of applying the law to the facts in these types of cases.

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About tngadisabilitylawyer
Disability Lawyer in Tennessee and Georgia.

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