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Price v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 24, 2015

WILLIAM PRICE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee

Argued July 8, 2015.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 13-cv-1160-CJP -- Clifford J. Proud, Magistrate Judge.

For William Price, Plaintiff - Appellant: David W. Sutterfield, Attorney, Sutterfield Law Offices, P.C., Effingham, IL.

For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant - Appellee: Jennifer Hudson, Attorney, Office of The United States Attorney, Criminal Division, Fairview Heights, IL; Alison Talbert Schwartz, Assistant Regional Counsel, Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, Region V, Chicago, IL.

Before POSNER, SYKES, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.


Page 837

Posner, Circuit Judge.

Price, who appeals from the decision of the district court upholding the Social Security Administration's 2013 denial of his claim for Supplemental Security Income (benefits for low-income people who are aged, blind or disabled, Browning v. Colvin, 766 F.3d 702, 703 (7th Cir. 2014)), is an almost illiterate, mentally retarded (" intellectually disabled" is the currently favored term, id. ) 44-year-old who also suffers from psychiatric ailments. It appears that between 1988 and 2010 he received SSI benefits intermittently, but the record does not indicate what the basis for adjudging him disabled was. In fact the record is a mess, which does not reflect well on the Social Security Administration's ability to maintain records. All we know, so far as the past is concerned, is that he was adjudged disabled in 1988, 1991, and 2007, and that his benefits should have been terminated in 2005 because that year he was sent to prison for a felony sex offense and imprisonment for a felony automatically terminates entitlement to disability benefits, 20 C.F.R. § 404.468--a prison inmate doesn't need an income. Yet how then to explain the third disability award, made in 2007 yet listing a termination date of 2006--and he was still in prison in 2007. The confusion is hopeless.

There is no suggestion that the award of benefits in 1988 or 1991 was erroneous (and no explanation for why there were two awards) or that, had he not been sent to prison, his benefits might have been terminated on some other ground. This history creates a presumption that had it not been for his being sent to prison he would still be receiving the benefits stream that began in 1988.

Paroled in 2010, he forthwith applied for the same benefits that he had received before he entered prison, and being turned

Page 838

down sought judicial relief, culminating in his appeal to us.

Since his release from prison he has been under the care of a psychiatrist named Elbert Lee, who has diagnosed him with a major depressive disorder and antisocial personality disorder and has prescribed antidepressant and antipsychotic medicine to treat these conditions. Price has told Dr. Lee that he's afraid of people and hears voices telling him that he's no good. Two psychologists after examining Price's file concluded that he takes great pains to avoid people (an example being that he shops for groceries at 1:00 a.m.), has made only a marginal adjustment to adult life, has a chronic mood disorder that manifests itself in depression, also has an anxiety disorder, an antisocial personality disorder and a learning disability, and his intellectual abilities are very modest--his only IQ score in the record is 65; an IQ below 70 is in the retarded zone. To top it all off he has an adjustment disorder (basically, going to pieces under stress). Yet the two psychologists thought that despite Price's mental and psychiatric problems he is capable of work-related activity. One said he can follow simple, repetitive instructions but would have difficulty with persistence in the workplace, the other that his mental capacity is equal to performing simple tasks. A third psychologist agreed with the other two. All three are retained by the Social Security Administration to determine whether an applicant for benefits has mental problems. Only one of the three examined Price, however.

The month after the psychologists' evaluation, Price may have tried to kill himself by overdosing on his antipsychotic medication. He said he wasn't trying to kill himself--that " he was having problems with sleep and he took too many to get sleep." But in the emergency room, to which he was taken to deal with the overdose, his (future) wife (at the time his girlfriend) said he'd told her it was a suicide attempt, and he was admitted to the hospital involuntarily. Dr. Lee, concerned with Price's condition, prescribed a variety of medications to treat his complaints of depression, paranoia, sleep problems, and hearing voices and thumping noises. Attending counseling sessions at a behavioral health center, Price reported hearing voices (again), worrying that people would hurt him, and feeling like " less than a man" because he had " difficulty finding a job ...

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