Michael Cooke v. Arizona Department of Economic Security – 5/14/2013

May 21, 2013

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Statute Defining Cognitive Disability Trumps Division of Developmental Disabilities’ Interpretation of the Statute.

Michael Cooke has a genetic defect that qualified him for developmental disability services until the Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES), Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) concluded that he lacked a qualifying diagnosis.  Cooke requested a hearing on that decision.  Both the Administrative Law Judge and the ADES Appeals Board found that Cooke scored 69 on an IQ test, which satisfied the statute’s definition of a cognitive disability.  A.R.S. § 36-551(40).  However, they upheld the decision denying benefits to Cooke because Cooke’s substandard cognitive scores did not meet DDD’s internal definition of cognitive disability; Cooke’s scores fell outside the range associated with cognitive disability on a test-by-test basis.

Cooke appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.  The court of appeals held that the ADES Appeals Board erred by applying the more restrictive cognitive disability test set forth in DDD’s policies because those policies were neither codified in statute nor promulgated as an administrative rule.  The Appeals Board should have applied A.R.S. § 36-551(40), which defines cognitive disability on less narrow terms.

Because ADES conceded that this was the only barrier to Cooke’s receipt of developmental disability services, the court of appeals reversed and directed the Appeals Board to determine that Cooke continues to be eligible for services.

Judge Portley authored the opinion, Presiding Judge Downie and Judge Hall concurred.