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. raff, I find more malingerers and dissimulators in one child custody case than I do in a month’s worth of disability claimants. I suspect that will come as a BIG surprise to you, no? 😉

  2. 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.

  3. Arthur,
    The hardest disability to prove is when there is an actual medical disability. If actual disabilities were seen as disabilities then there would be many more disabled people on Social Security. A mental disability is often frightening to the working people in the Social Security Administration. And it is frightening to think about working next to a person who shrieks at an imaginary friend for example.
    Mental health in this country is nearly back to the Snake Pit Stage. So it is a lot easier to give mentally ill people a monthly check rather than actually have Mental Health Clinics and Hospitals that treat people. What these clinics do right now is prescribe and document the illnesses (in case of future legal proceedings) What mental hospitals do now is house people who “may be a danger to themselves or others” for 15 days in order to start medication (that will not be continued on day 16 by most ) And in addition to 15 day commitments there will be a few mentally ill criminals who’s stay will be a little longer than 15 days but even most of these will be turfed out as soon as the hospital can do so without adverse publicity.
    I don’t denigrate the mentally ill receiving a SS check. Good God what would happen to so many of the mentally ill if they didn’t have that pittance. But rather the disparity of people with other medical problems stemming from health issues to injuries trying time and again to qualify as in Arthur’s wife.
    The fact that they make it intentionally difficult for so many to receive the stability of the monies they paid into SS is the real crime.

  4. I always wonder, when I see mentally ill people exploited on TV, as in the various shows on hoarding. I assume that, in those cases, a responsible relative signs away the patient’s privacy in return for otherwise-expensive help in clearing the hoarded living space.
    interesting assumption.
    Having grown up w/those w/hoarding and other not-quite-right tendencies…I can tell you that even when ‘competent’ these people are at the least extremely difficult and prone to doing exactly what you ask them NOT to do.
    Relatives signing away thier rights is probably the last and least likely scenario. Mental illness …the very words….tell you that the thought process is probably tortuous if not completely daft. That said, there is a continuum, just like w/everything, and those with mental illness are at risk for exploitation…and those who care for them can be at risk for being targeted by those w/the illness as well as those who exploit them. Is difficult….

  5. Capt. Erb,

    If she was denied on the first try, ALWAYS APPEAL. Get a lawyer specializing in disability law. Our state has a 70% rejection rate on first application. You cannot tell me, with a straight face, that three quarters of the people who apply for disability are not disabled. In fact, once it gets in front of the administrative law judge for a hearing, many are granted their benefits. In the process, the malingerers are usually weeded out. One of the things I do as a consultant to the Disability Determination Service is look for malingerers.

    But your assertion that Mr. Thornton is a “fraud” is based on no evidence whatsoever. I suspect I know what his disability is, but I do not do long-distance diagnoses.

    As for the people on disability who filled out their FAA physical renewal forms fraudulently, that is illegal as you well know. It is conceivable–but not likely–that a person who is disabled and unable to work can still fly safely. The standard for disability is that the person cannot work eight hours a day, five or six days a week–and remain fully functional during that time.

    1. Unfortunately, part of her disability made her not appeal her rejection and so it is not timely. We were not married at the time she applied and I could not do it for her. So she is out of luck.

      The Houston office I later learned had a rejection rate of almost 100% and lawyers were complaining to SS that their clients were dying before their appeals could be processed. I was also outraged to see that all of the workers in the office were all hale and hearty hacks. I think that a requirement for employment there should be a least some level of handicap rather than wasting a job a person with some disabilities could do. I think that firing all able bodied workers would go a long way to cleaning up that mess.

  6. OS, both posts, A++

    ARE, first 2 sentences affirms OS’s first post (or that evil knows no bounds in Texas).

    “As one of my professors quipped, ‘Just because they are crazy does not mean they are stupid.'” Can you say libertarian (aka anarchists).

  7. pete
    1, October 19, 2011 at 11:07 am
    shouldn’t senator coburn consult senator vitter on this?


    lol … only if such consultation takes place at the C Street house.

  8. I am outraged that this fraud is getting disability payments. My wife is a cancer survivor who was really screwed up by her chemo treatment. She applied for disability, was denied, I guess that if you can walk and talk, here in Texas that constitutes ability to work.

    Then the FAA did a search in CA of SS disability payments and found hundreds of SS recipients who had pilots licenses, yet had failed to mention their “disability” on their medical forms. Their licenses were revoked, and I did not hear if they were prosecuted for fraud. They also give disability payments for alcoholics in CA, but the saving grace of that is that those folks as a result will die off sooner rather than later.

  9. Excellent insight OS! I have to admit that I had not heard of Adult Baby before reading Professor Turleys post. My first reaction was that this guy did not have all of his oars in the water. A law suit is not likely to be successful as others have suggested, but I am not a big fan of Sen. Coburn.

  10. Bette Noir,

    Just because a person is disabled due to a mental disorder does not mean they are incompetent. Many are, of course, but the legal test is whether they are so incompetent that they need either a conservator or guardian, and there are many legal hurdles before one can be adjudicated non compos mentis (not mentally competent). Most mentally disabled people I know are fully competent to sign a release, make a will and to manage their affairs.

    As one of my professors quipped, “Just because they are crazy does not mean they are stupid.”

  11. I wonder about the “Taboo” appearance. If Mr. Thornton is mentally disabled to the degree justifying SS disability payments, how can he give consent to appear on TV?

    I always wonder, when I see mentally ill people exploited on TV, as in the various shows on hoarding. I assume that, in those cases, a responsible relative signs away the patient’s privacy in return for otherwise-expensive help in clearing the hoarded living space. What could possibly be the return for revealing an infantile lifestyle, other than the publicity itself?

  12. As one who is intimately familiar with what it takes to get on Social Security disability, I think it safe to say that Mr. Thornton did not get on disability because of his lifestyle, hobby, fetish or whatever one might want to call it.

    It appears to me that the fetish is one of the visible symptoms of what is probably an underlying major mental illness. Let’s look at another similar disability: hoarding. The hoarding is not a disability itself, but is the likely result of a serious obsessive compulsive disorder that makes the hoarder unemployable.

    I do not presume to know what Mr. Thornton’s exact psychiatric diagnosis is, but it was serious enough to get him through a panel of gimlet-eyed evaluators.

  13. “Thornton now runs for others who play-act as babies, wear diapers or wet their beds.”
    “who play act” is the point… right?
    Is being weird a disability?

    I’m no fan of Coburn but if there is an effort to scrutinize fraud & abuse then I understand.

  14. maybe Sen. Tom Coburn should pick on somebody his own age………..

  15. Stanley is all wet.

    Since Stanley voluntarily appeared on NatGeo’s “Taboo” — more than likely as a means of publicly promoting his particular lifestyle as evidenced by his later website activities — is he a public figure? If so can he prove that the Senator’s remarks were made with malice?

    Should the Senator be sued by Stanley, not only should the case be thrown out but also Stanley’s lawyer.

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