Court Cases on Disability Benefits/Social Security

In The Interests of Alicia R.
1998 WL 855512 (Conn. Super.)

Court approves termination of the parental rights of the mother, who has FAS.

The mother at age 37 possessed "the distinctive facial abnormalities of the disorder," as well as "congenital neuro-cognitive impairment in her ability to organize events and its impact on the higher cognitive functions such as anticipating and making connections between events."

The mother had since the age of 16 been receiving SSI benefits. "Because of her condition and abilities, [the mother] has only had marginal employment on an intermittent basis during her life." (*1).

There was evidence of a number of incidents of sexual and other abuse of the child involved.

Ferguson v. Massanari
2001 WL 902207 (D.Del.)

This was a lawsuit seeking benefits under the Social Security Act for Dion Ferguson, a young man in this 20s. His mother sought benefits for him under SSI (Supplemental Security Income) or under Title II of the Social Security Act. The question in dispute in the case was whether Ferguson was so disabled that he could not work. The court vacated the denial of benefits and remanded the case to the Social Seucirty Administration.

Diagnosis: The opinion describes several distinct factors used in diagnosing FAS or FAE:

(1) Behavioral factors: "special education placements, developmental delay, hyperactivity, and behavioral problems" (2001 WL at *3); "inappropriate social behavior, memory deficits . . . lack of judgment, lack of remorse for misbehavior, lying . . . unusual aggressiveness, and wide variations in learning abilities". (2001 WL at *8)(quoting the concurring and dissenting opinion in   Devereux).

(2) Exposure: a history of exposure to alcohol while in utero. (2001 WL at *3)

(3) Physical Features: "short stature, distal digital hypoplasia, nail dysplasia, and mild facial dysmorphisms." (2001 WL at *3).

[Note: some of these features are limited to FAS, and are not present in cases of FAE].

Eligibility for Benefits: The opinion concluded that the Social Security Administration, which had denied benefits to Ferguson, had made several errors.

(1) When an applicant seeks disability benefits based on his or her IQ, the Social Security regulations usually require an IQ below 70. If the applicant has taken the IQ test several times and gotten different scores, the lowest score should be used. In this case the lowest score was 72. The court noted that because of possible statistical errors, Ferguson's actual IQ could be 5 points higher or lower, i.e. perhaps as low as 68. (2001 WL at *7)

(2) The Social Security Administration should have considered the combined effect of Ferguson's low IQ together with possible FAS in determining his ability to work.

(3) The Social Security Administration had an obligation to develop the evidence and record regarding whether Ferguson had FAS and what impact such FAS would have on his ability to work.

Risinger v. Concannon
201 F.R.D. 16 (2001)

This is a lawsuit brought by the parents of a child who suffered from a number of different conditions, including FAS and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The suit asserted that Maine state officials had failed to provide certain benefits under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment provision of the federal Medicaid Act. Those benefits include screening, case management and in-home mental health services.

The decision certified the case as a class action. No decision was made on the merits of the dispute

Roelandt v. Apfel
125 F. Supp. 2d 1138 (S.D. Iowa 2001)

This case sought benefits for a child under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) provisions of the Social Security Act. The benefits were sought in 1996, when the child was 9. The Social Security Administration denied SSI benefits, but the federal court awarded them.

The child apparently had a classic case of FAS. The diagnosis included "several dysmorphic features, including narrow bifrontal diameter grossly, nail hypoplasia, narrow palpebral fissure, ptosis, thin upper lip, flat mid-face, smooth filtrum, short nose, and unruly scalp hair." 125 F. Supp. at 1142.

The child was also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although he had a normal IQ (104), his reading level was extremely poor. While an average student of the child's grade level could read 100 correct words per minute, the child read only 43 words a minute with 7 errors. Atypically, he was doing math at grade level.

The court concluded the child was disabled within the meaning of the SSI statute because there was a marked degree of disability in two areas, "attending and completing tasks" and "interacting and relating with others." 125 F. Supp. at 1147-48.

Rowan v. Barnhart
2003 WL 21246542 (3d Cir.)

Rowan applied for SSI benefits under the Social Security Act. The Social Security Administration denied benefits because it concluded that Rowan was capable ofr doing some non-demanding jobs. Rowan sought review of that decision by the federal courts. The court of appeals concluded that there was conflicting evidence regarding whether Rowan could work, and that therefore it was up to the Social Security Administration to decide the issue.

The case is significant because the court of appeals concluded that the evidence Rowan offered was sufficient to support a finding that he could not work, even though it did not compel that finding. It appears that Rowan had never held a full time job. The evidence supporting his claim that she could not work full time included the following:

"Rowan needed supervision when carrying out instructions, including when doing his chores around the home and when shopping, could not maintain a residence independently, had great difficulty in all facets of social functioning, especially with people his own age, had impaired concentration, had difficult organizing tasks, 'acted up,' acted unpredictably, sometimes ran away from home, was placed in special education classes at school, was often 'on edge,' and sometimes acted violently."

URL: http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/023507u.pdf