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8th Cir. Refuses to Vacate Denial of Disability Benefits to Low IQ Woman

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the findings of the a lower district court: a woman with a tested IQ of only 57.

In the opinion of the court, Karen Ash did not qualify for social security benefits because she was still able to live a relatively average life, thus allowing the district court to affirm the ruling "substantially on the record."

Petition for Social Security Benefits

The petitioner in this case applied for social security disability benefits and claimed that she suffered from a disability of mental retardation. Additionally she was asserted that she was unable to work because of debilitating depression, headaches, IBS, arthritis, and of course, her mild mental retardation.

Generally Functional

Tests of Ms. Ash showed that her "current level of intellectual functioning [fell] within the mild range of mental retardation." Her IQ scores clocked in at 57.

During legal proceedings however, it became clear that there was some debate as to how much Ms. Ash's mental challenge actually affected her ability to work and her quality of life. Upon questioning, Dr. Vowell (the same doctor who administered Ash's IQ test) opined that in his opinion, Ash's mental ailments did not -- in fact -- interfere with her "daily adaptive functioning."

Other doctors too also took note with Ash's IQ score and generally agreed with Dr. Vowell that her "symptoms [did] not preclude her from engaging in simple, repetitive, routine tasks." Testimony indicates that Ash operated her computer, socialized on Facebook, and handled her own savings account.

ALJ Denial

The Social Security Administration denied Ash's claims and she thereafter requested a hearing before an ALJ. Throughout the appeals process, each superior level only affirmed the immediately lower level. Finally the circuit affirmed the ALJ's determination that Ash did not qualify for disability because her condition did not meet the specified requirements as listed under Listing 12.05C, the standard required for social security benefits.

It may have been the case in Ash's facts that she scored a mere 57 on her IQ tests, but the evidence indicated on the whole that she was rather remarkably good at adapting to changes in her life. She was, for example, still able to reasonable socialize with customers in the dollar star where she'd worked and could even drive a vehicle. The circuit found that a mere score of 57 was not determinative of a per se triggering of 12.05C and that the ALJ's finding was substantially supported by the evidence.

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