Can The “Adult Baby” Sue Senator Coburn?

There is an interesting controversy in Washington where Stanley Thornton Jr., aka “Adult Baby,” has demanded an apology from Sen. Tom Coburn, who Thorton says effectively accused him of fraud when Coburn called for the Social Security Administration to review his qualification for benefits. Thornton was featured on the National Geographic channel reality television show “Taboo.” Thorton lives part of his life as an “adult baby” and collects Social Security disability payments.

After seeing the program, Coburn called for the benefit review. The review came in the final months of life for his roommate Sandra Dias, who spoon-fed him and helping him into his baby clothes. Thornton was shown playing in the adult-sized crib he built and seen working to build a wooden high chair.

A few months after the start of the investigation, Dias died. Thornton was then cleared by the Social Security investigators which sent him a letter stating “We recently reviewed the evidence in your Social Security disability claim and find that your disability is continuing.” Thornton now runs for others who play-act as babies, wear diapers or wet their beds.

John Hart, a spokesman for Mr. Coburn, stands by original allegations questioning how “a grown man who is able to design and build adult-sized baby furniture is eligible for disability benefits.” He did add that they felt sympathy for the death of Dias.

The controlling law would make it difficult for Thorton to sue.
Members of Congress generally are protected under the “speech or debate” clause in Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution. However, the privilege protects legislative proceedings and generally does not apply to news releases, speeches and other public comments. This was the holding in Hutchinson v. Proxmire, when Sen. Proxmire was found to be acting outside of the clause in making media comments regarding his golden fleece award.

A federal court threw out a lawsuit against the late John Murtha.

Then there is the question of whether Coburn’s statements were defamatory. They were not. He asked a federal agency to investigate which would itself be viewed as a protected communication. His opinion is that the benefits were unjustified — opinion is also given protection under defamation and constitutional principles.

I am actually on my way to Oklahoma to give the 2011 Holloway Lecture. I expect to leave out the Adult Baby having discussed it fully on our blog.

Source: Washington Times

30 thoughts on “Can The “Adult Baby” Sue Senator Coburn?”

  1. Hey Jonathanturley,
    Interesting Post Tests done with rats shows exposure to flame retardants can result in deficits of learning and memory. A flame retardant chemical may also impact behavior, disrupt endocrine function, irreparably damage reproductive systems and cause thyroid disease.
    Nice One!

  2. I have to question Senator Coburn’s television viewing habits. From what little I have seen flipping past the Nat Geo channel, “Taboo” (and many other programs on various networks) panders to voyeurs of the weird and pathetic. We all, to some extent, are fascinated by trainwrecks, and rubbernecking is endemic, but seriously, Senator, why were you watching that in the first place?

  3. Aren’t we all adult babies? And babies are adults who haven’t caught on to politics yet.

  4. “The one person I know who was collecting SSI was a serial mooch and shoplifter. If that qualifies for payments, I guess the field is wide open for almost anybody to get the money.”

    I once knew of a bank robber who got SS Disability. When SSA terminated him, an ALJ ruled that robbing a bank is not substantial gainful activity, because illegal ventures are not covered by FICA taxes. The bank robber got reinstated, but his benefits were suspended while he was incarcerated.

  5. “OS is totally correct. It’s very hard to get SS Disability and the 70% rejection rate is real, even for the most obvious cases.”

    I’d modify your statement to say “hard to get disability initially.” According to statistics at, roughly half of initial claims are approved, almost no reconsiderations are approved, but during the 70s – 90s about 80% of all hearings were approved. Going into the 2000s, SSA began comparing ALJ approvals to “average” approvals, asking some ALJs why they approved more claims than their peers. That caused ALJ allowances to drop to about 70% (of the 50% who’d been denied initially.)

  6. Thank you for your postings, OS. Not all disabilities are readily visible or easily understood, and it takes qualified professionals to investigate and determine these matters, not mendacious Congressional ideologues and the nitwit chatterboxes of TV punditry.

  7. The one person I know who was collecting SSI was a serial mooch and shoplifter. If that qualifies for payments, I guess the field is wide open for almost anybody to get the money. Much as I disagree with Coburn on almost everything, I think he should have spoken up. Does Vitter the diaper dude get paid, too?

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