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Mou v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 30, 2017

CHINLI MOU, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NOS. 17, 18

          JOSEPH C. SPERO Chief Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Chinli Mou seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the ''Commissioner'') denying her application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Mou asks the Court to reverse the Commissioner‘s denial of benefits and remand for an award of benefits, or, in the alternative, for further administrative development. The Commissioner requests the Court affirm denial of benefits to Mou, or, in the alternative, deny Mou‘s request for an instruction to award benefits and instead remand for further administrative development. For the reasons articulated below, the Court GRANTS Mou‘s Motion for Summary Judgment, DENIES the Commissioner‘s Motion for Summary Judgment, reverses the decision of the Commissioner, and remands for further administrative proceedings.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On January 6, 2012, Mou applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging she was unable to work due to depression, high blood pressure, and emotional stress beginning December 10, 2005 until the December 31, 2008 date she was last insured. Administrative Record (''AR, '' dkt. 14) at 12-13, 150. The Social Security Administration denied Mou‘s claim on April 24, 2012, and affirmed the denial on reconsideration on November 5, 2012. Id. at 150-53, 155-59. Mou filed a written request for a hearing regarding these disability benefits on January 8, 2013. Id. at 160-61. Following an initial hearing by Administrative Law Judge Frederick C. Michaud, the matter was reassigned to Administrative Law Judge Brenton L. Rogozen (the ''ALJ'') who held a supplemental hearing on January 21, 2014 and issued a decision on March 17, 2014 finding Mou not disabled. Id. at 12-26; 100-35. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council considered and denied Mou‘s request for review on September 11, 2015, finding ''no reason under [its] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge‘s decision.'' Id. at 1.

         Mou filed the present action on November 12, 2015 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which gives the Court jurisdiction to review the Commissioner‘s final decision. This action was reassigned to the undersigned magistrate judge on June 6, 2016, and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Local Rule 16-5. See Pl.‘s Mot. (dkt. 17); Def.‘s Mot. (dkt. 18).

         B. Mou's Background

         1. Personal History Prior to Alleged Onset Date

         Mou was born in Taipei, Taiwan on December 2, 1962, where she was raised as the oldest of three girls in a college-educated family. AR 336. Mou considered herself to be a shy kid, but held a small group of close friends and also attended painting and ballet lessons. Id. In middle school, Mou devoted her free time to the high school entrance exam, which led to Mou qualifying for the top public high school for girls in the area. Id. During high school, Mou took a university entrance exam and was selected for a prestigious co-ed college. Id. at 336-37. During high school, many of her classmates had secret boyfriends despite a prohibition on contact with boys, but Mou did not because she ''always follow[s] rules.'' Id. at 336. During college, Mou was allowed to date but had a strict curfew and was not allowed to smoke, drink, or use drugs. Id. at 337. Once again, Mou ''did not fight those rules, '' because ''they were good for [her]. [She] was taught to be good.'' Id. Mou went to several dances and started dating Steven Yang, an electrical engineering student, during her third year of college. Id.

         Following college, Mou held a series of jobs in Taipei, working as a computer programmer and later maintaining a successful career for a consulting firm. Id. After marrying Steven Yang in May 1988, Mou and Yang moved to the United States so Yang could obtain a master‘s degree from University of Maryland. Id. at 337-38. Mou and Yang then moved to Silicon Valley where they bounced around various jobs. Id. at 338. Between 1990 and 1998, Mou began working in the United States as a computer programmer and eventually transitioned into consulting work once more. Id. In 1996, Mou was offered a promotion into a management position but turned it down because she felt that her English was not good enough to manage people. Id. From 1998 to 2000, Mou decided to obtain a master‘s degree in computer systems at Washington City University. Id. Mou enjoyed being back in school and maintained a GPA of 3.8 during her time at Washington City University. Id. When she wasn‘t at work or school, Mou enjoyed spending time at libraries to improve her command of the English language and study various topics, visiting every Bay Area library she could. Id. at 332, 338.

         2. The King Library Events and Subsequent Personal History

         In Fall 2004, Mou encountered the first in a series of difficult situations at the Martin Luther King Library (''King Library'') at San Jose State University-a university library Mou frequented often. Id. at 332. On one occasion, a Chinese patron of the library complained when Mou and her husband were talking in a portion of the library designated for talking. Id. Mou told the man the library rules allowed people to talk in the area, but library security was eventually called and Mou was told to leave the library. Id. Sgt. John Laws of the San Jose University State Police Department was involved in resolving this incident. Id. Mou immediately felt the incident was unfair, ''since she had not broken any rules.'' Id.

         On February 4, 2005, Mou once again visited the King Library to check out some books. Id. As she was leaving the library that day, Mou passed through a security checkpoint at the same time as an elderly Caucasian man, at which point the checkpoint‘s alarm rang. Id. Mou was stopped by a Library Security Officer (''LSO''), Irene Wong, and forced to go through the checkpoint again while the Caucasian man was not stopped at all. Id. Mou asked Wong ''why didn‘t you stop the other guy? This is not fair!'' Id. Wong looked angry and told Mou to identify herself and wait as she called her supervisor. Id. Mou stated she was planning on complaining to Wong‘s supervisor, but proceeded to take her library books and leave to catch her bus. Id.

         On February 7, 2005, Mou returned to the King Library to browse the DVD collection. Id. While browsing, she was approached by Sgt. Laws who asked Mou for her name and birthdate. Id. Mou responded with ''Karen, '' a name she frequently used in place of her Chinese name, and provided her birthdate. Id. Sgt. Laws then grabbed Mou‘s purse and told her that she provided him with the wrong name, and that he was arresting her for using a fictitious name. Id. Following this incident, Laws took Mou to a police station in San Jose, where she was held for several hours, and gave her a citation stating she could not return to the King Library for one week and a paper to sign promising to appear in court. Id. This event was the first time Mou was involved in criminal proceedings in any capacity, and she began looking for an attorney to deal with the matter. Id.

         On February 23, 2005, Mou returned to King Library to spend time in the sixth-floor music room. Id. at 333. That day, Mou left the music room to use the restroom and accidentally locked herself out of the room. Id. At the main circulation desk, one of the librarians told Mou not to worry and that it happens all the time, and sent an LSO to help her get back in. Id. LSO Fritz van der Hoek then discovered that Mou had used her husband‘s library card to check out the music room key. Id. Mou asked to speak to Fritz van der Hoek‘s supervisor, Sgt. Laws, who told Mou she was not allowed to use the sixth floor anymore and refused to allow her to retrieve her things. Id. After this conversation, Mou spoke with a supervisor at the main circulation desk who eventually let Mou back into the music room for the remainder of her time. Id. As she was leaving the library, Mou spoke with some of the other security officers at the security desk, asking why she was penalized by Sgt. Laws for using the wrong library card. Id. Sgt. Laws subsequently appeared and tried to arrest Ms. Mou for ''interfering.'' Id. Sgt. Laws gave Mou a citation for trespassing, told her she could not use the library for one to two weeks, handcuffed her, and threatened to take her to jail. Id. Mou begged him to let her sign the citation instead, and Sgt. Laws eventually relented and let her go. Id. Mou states that she was very upset from this encounter, describing her state of mind following these events accordingly- I was really, really publicly humiliated!

It was really wrong! I followed every direction! . . . I came to this country. I followed the immigration laws. I paid taxes. What did I do, to deserve this? I want to be a good citizen! I deserve to have equal rights!

Id.

         Following the King Library events, Mou‘s day-to-day personal life was substantially altered in several respects. As a result of and following these events, Mou claims she was unable to work in any capacity as she ''could not function, '' and spent ''at least two years crying at home all day long, '' as a result of the incident. Id. at 112. Mou explains these incidents led to her being unable to perform basic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, or grocery shopping; her becoming socially isolated from friends and loved ones; and were directly responsible for her divorce from her husband in October 2005. Id. at 116-17, 334. Mou claims the King Library events continue to make her depressed, nervous, and anxious despite her having attended weekly psychotherapy sessions and trying antidepressants. See Id . at 115-17; 334-35.

         Yang, Mou‘s former husband, also submitted a declaration letter dated October 3, 2013 to the ALJ detailing his thoughts on Mou‘s depression, anxiety and ability to function at the time of writing. Id. at 245. In his letter, Yang stated that he and Mou filed for divorce in October 2005 for irreconcilable differences which was finalized in April of 2006. Id. Since filing for divorce, Yang has ''been helping Ms [sic] Mou in every aspect [he] could; however, her depression, anxiety, and feeling insecure seems unimproved, but getting worse. Those symptoms make it impossible for Ms [sic] Mou to stay at work or get back to work.'' Id. Specifically, Yang stated that he has helped Mou following divorce in a variety of ways, ''including but not limited to, paying medical insurance premium [sic] and bills, property tax, Home Owner Association Fees, utility bills, etc.'' Id. Yang also indicated that his remarriage and new family make it ''even more difficult for [him] to continue [sic] support Ms. Mou, '' and that ''[w]ith her current condition, Ms [sic] Mou won‘t be able to join the workforce to support herself.'' Id.

         3. Medical History

         a. Dr. Leith‘s Statement

         Dr. Ronnie Sue Leith performed an independent psychiatric evaluation for Mou in anticipation of Mou‘s civil rights litigation in 2007 pertaining to the King Library events. Id. at 330. Dr. Leith completed her evaluation on August 24, 2007, at which point she assessed Mou‘s emotional state and rendered a medical opinion regarding Mou‘s mental health. Id. Dr. Leith based her opinions on four hours of in-person interviews with Mou as well as review of Mou‘s verified complaint for damages, Mou‘s deposition transcripts, police reports, and letters from Sgt. Laws to Yang and Mou. Id. Dr. Leith ultimately concluded, ''with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Ms. Mou suffered an episode of Major Depressive Disorder as a result of being detained and arrested twice at the Martin Luther King Library in February 2005, '' and that ''[h]er depression has persisted to the present day, and it is mixed with a significant component of anxiety.'' Id. at 340. Dr. Leith memorialized Mou‘s own description of the background and events discussed above.

         i. Mou‘s Symptoms and Current Functioning

         As discussed above, Mou subjectively believed the King Library events profoundly impacted her ability to maintain personal relationships and subsequently led to her divorce, inability to work, and personal social isolation. Id. at 116-17, 334. In her meetings with Dr. Leith, Mou also discussed several other emotional and mental issues that arose from these events.

         First, Mou told Dr. Leith that ''after February 7, 2005, she was 'frightened and scared‘ every time she went to the King Library.'' Id. at 333. She noticed that she began making mistakes such as locking herself out of the music room at the library or using the wrong library card when she went to the King Library-mistakes that ''occurred only when she was in the King Library.'' Id. at 334. More generally, Dr. Leith describes Mou‘s impression of her emotional state as follows:

She said that after the two incidents in February 2005, she ''cried and cried'' when she was at home. She wasn‘t able to sleep; she would fall asleep and then awaken with nightmares of being arrested, or of people chasing her. She didn‘t feel like eating, and initially lost weight, although she subsequently gained it back. She said that for a while, she was afraid to go out: ''I didn‘t know what would happen to me. This place has no justice!''

Id.

         Mou claims that despite criminal charges against her eventually being dropped, she continued to be upset by what had happened to her. Id. As a result of the events, Mou ''became convinced that she had been 'bullied‘ because of her poor command of spoken English.'' Id. Mou decided to file a civil lawsuit ''because she felt that the police had intentionally tried to bully her, 'and ever since [Mou] was small, [she] was told to fight back with bullies.‘'' Id. Mou also attributes her divorce to the King Library events in that ''her husband, Steven Yang, never supported her in her wish to obtain justice, '' and that ''they argued daily about her decision to file a lawsuit.'' Id. Eventually, their arguments came to a head when Yang ''began to complain that he couldn‘t handle her being so upset, and that he didn‘t have time to make calls for her, because he had to work.'' Id. Yang filed for divorce in October 2005. Id.

         As of the date of Dr. Leith‘s medical statement-August 24, 2007-Mou claimed that her depression and anxiety were still present, and when she was reminded of the events, her symptoms were ''as intense as they ever were.'' Id. Mou was still only regularly getting two to three hours of sleep a night, constantly having nightmares, and ''[o]n two occasions within the past few months, she has had thoughts of suicide.'' Id. at 334-35. These suicidal thoughts came as the result of mental lapses such as forgetting about a boiling pot of water such that the pan boiled dry. Id. at 335. Dr. Leith noted that Mou told her ''these lapses made her feel 'useless‘: 'I was always perfect! I‘ve become really stupid! I should just die.‘'' Id. Mou had taken paralegal courses at West Valley College, where a professor referred her to a school counselor after noticing her crying in class. Id.

         Dr. Leith describes Mou‘s typical day at the time of her 2007 examination as follows:

She said that she is living alone, in the townhouse that she and her husband own and formerly occupied together. Mr. Yang moved out earlier this year. Ms. Mou awakens between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., and is unable to go back to sleep. Sometimes she gets up and starts her day, and other times she remains in bed until around 6:00 a.m. During the school term she would get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave for school. She uses public transportation, and the trip to campus took an hour. She would eat lunch on campus, and return home between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. She would fix herself a light dinner, and then would try to study. Sometimes she goes to a movie at night, alone or with friends, to try to distract herself so that she can fall asleep. She goes to bed at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m., but has difficulty falling asleep; at times she may lie awake until 1:00 a.m. On the weekends, she reads books, does homework, and swims.

Id.

         ii. Psychological Testing and Results

         In addition to interviewing Mou regarding her past personal history and the symptoms she experienced following the King Library events, Dr. Leith also reviewed and summarized psychological tests performed by Dr. Joanna Berg on July 27, 2007 to support Dr. Leith‘s ultimate medical opinions. Id. at 338. As an initial note, Dr. Leith found that ''Ms. Mou participated willingly in the testing, and there was no reason to doubt either her effort or the validity of the test results.'' Id. Mou was administered a variety of psychological tests, including the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) and the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III) tests. Id.

         Mou‘s ''MMPI-2 profile depicted her as 'a relatively inflexible individual who lacks psychological sophistication.‘'' Id. While Mou presented herself for these tests with a ''slightly exaggerated positive self-image in a somewhat guarded manner, '' there was ''clear evidence of depression, tension, and anxiety.'' Id. Mou‘s MMPI-2 profile also indicated that Mou is '''exquisitely sensitive in interpersonal reactions, ‘ and she experiences herself as being unjustly treated.'' Id. The MMPI-2 profile revealed that Mou ''feels hopeless and immobilized by her chronic worry and distress, '' and that Mou ''generally sees the world as a threatening place.'' Id. Mou‘s MMPI-2 profile also showed the existence of long-term personality problems, the precise nature of which were unclear ''because of her overly-positive presentation of herself.'' Id.

         Dr. Leith stated the MCMI-III profile generally corroborated the findings of the MMPI-2 profile-that Mou was ''currently experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety and depression, '' despite her attempts to be perceived in a positive light and downplay her negative feelings. Id. at 339. Based on this testing, Mou was described as '''likely to be naive and somewhat immature‘ in her interpersonal relationships.'' Id. Mou was also given the Thematic Apperception Test where Mou was ''primarily descriptive of the pictures, but revealed sad affects throughout.'' Id. Overall, Dr. Leith concluded ''[t]he psychological test findings were consistent with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder.'' Id.

         iii. Medical Findings and Opinions

         Ultimately, Dr. Leith came to the opinion, ''with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Ms. Mou suffered an episode of Major Depressive Disorder as a result of being detained and arrested twice at the Martin Luther King Library in February 2005. Her depression has persisted to the present day, and it is mixed with a significant component of anxiety.'' Id. at 340.

         Dr. Leith explained the ''diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder is based upon Ms. Mou‘s complaints of sadness, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, loss of interest in social activities, sleep disturbance, anxiety, fatigue and loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide.'' Id. Dr. Leith went on to state that ''these symptoms began after the events of February 2005, and they have intensified over time as she has continued to feel unsupported in her complaints.'' Id. Dr. Leith also found that ''[t]he results of the MMPI-2 and the MCMI-III administered by Dr. Joanna Berg substantiate Ms. Mou‘s self-report, showing significant degrees of depression, worry and anxiety.'' Id. Based on her review of psychological and other medical records, Dr. Leith rated Mou at ¶ 45 on the Global Assessment of functioning, ''which denotes serious impairment in social and occupational functioning.'' Id. at 341.

         Dr. Leith went on to state ''Mou‘s reaction to the events of February 2005 has been both intense and persistent; but [Dr. Leith] believe[s] it can be understood in light of her cultural background and her personality makeup.'' Id. Dr. Leith indicated that Mou‘s personality, and in particular, ''[h]er sensitivity to interpersonal slights makes her quick to take offense, '' such as in the King Library events, where ''[t]he more the situation escalated, the more misunderstood she felt and the angrier she became.'' Id. Dr. Leith noted that the King Library altercations were always with other Asians, which likely exacerbated Mou‘s reaction to the events, as ''[f]eeling at a competitive disadvantage with other Asians because of her language 'disability‘ may have further contributed to Ms. Mou‘s intense response.'' Id. Dr. Leith pointed to Mou‘s rigid personality structure as an additional exacerbating factor, as ''[s]he has been overwhelmed with a sense of victimization; and she is determined to pursue redress.''

         Dr. Leith noted that ''[t]he frustration she has experienced as she seeks vindication has increased [Mou‘s] sense of alienation from society and exacerbated her feelings of isolation and depression.'' Id. at 342. Specifically, Dr. Leith found that Mou‘s divorce and inability to work following the King Library events came as the result of those events in that Mou‘s ''preoccupation with this matter has cost her her marriage, since her husband proved to be unsupportive, and it has prevented her from returning to work.'' Id. Dr. Leith concluded by finding ''that Ms. Mou has suffered a major depressive disorder as a result of the events in the King Library in February 2005. Her personality structure and cultural factors may have increased her vulnerability to such injury.'' Id. at 342. Dr. Leith noted that Mou‘s ''complaints of depression and anxiety are supported by the results of psychological testing, and there is no evidence of symptom exaggeration or malingering.'' Id. Finally, Dr. Leith stated that Mou‘s depression has ''been inadequately treated by the Chinese medicine she prefers, '' and that she ''would probably benefit from treatment with antidepressant medication and supportive psychotherapy, extending for approximately one year beyond the resolution of the lawsuit.'' Id.

         b. Dr. Chiu‘s Mental Medical Source Statement

         Dr. Collins Chiu began acting as Mou‘s treating psychologist on August 22, 2012, providing weekly therapy sessions for Mou from that date forward. Id. at 278. In her Mental Medical Source Statement, dated June 24, 2013, Dr. Chiu listed August 22, 2012 as the alleged onset date, ''as this is the date [the] patient alleges becoming disabled.'' Id. In the space available to indicate a different onset date if Dr. Chiu found such a date ''more appropriate'' than the date identified by Mou, Dr. Chiu wrote ''N/A.'' Id. The Court notes that although Dr. Chiu indicated that Mou had alleged an onset date of August 22, 2012, Mou‘s filings with the Social Security Administration specify an onset date of December 10, 2005, e.g., id. at 222, 231, 240, 244, and one of her pre-hearing briefs states that she was ''unable to amend [her] alleged onset date to August 22, 2012 as that date is subsequent to her December 31, 2008 Date Last Insured, '' id. at 251.

         Following her sessions with Mou, Dr. Chiu identified the following psychological conditions or symptoms present in Mou: depression, loss of interest in activities, memory deficits, easy distractibility, appetite disturbance, anxiety/panic attacks, decreased energy, sleep disturbance, problems interacting with the public, difficulty with concentration, and feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness. See Id . at 278. Dr. Chiu also noted isolation/social withdrawal, mood swings, nightmares, social/interaction difficulties/conflicts, difficulty making daily decisions, inability to drive, and feeling overwhelmed as additional symptoms present in Mou at the time of the report. Id.

         In analyzing the impact of Mou‘s symptoms on her ability to perform work-related mental functions, Dr. Chiu found that Mou‘s understanding and memory, sustained concentration and persistence, social interaction, and ability to perform other functional tasks were all moderately or markedly limited.[2] See Id . at 279-80. In her analysis, Dr. Chiu stated that her assessment of Mou‘s understanding and memory was directly based on Mou‘s inability to sustain or keep work since 2005 due to the severity of her symptoms. Id. at 279. Similarly, Dr. Chiu explained that her conclusions on sustained concentration and persistence levels were based on Mou‘s inability to perform work since 2005 and self-reported difficulty in listed tasks. Id. at 280. With respect to functional limitations and limitations to social interaction, Dr. Chiu identified as the grounds for her opinion Mou‘s reports of having significant difficulties with trusting people, interacting with others, and maintaining relationships, as well as her lack of a social support network. Id. Additionally, Dr. Chiu found that on a monthly basis, Mou ''would report episodes of decompensation, mainly due to social/interpersonal conflicts with people. As a result, [she] would experience . . . depressive and anxiety symptoms.'' Id. at 281. Dr. Chiu concluded that the listed limitations lasted twelve continuous months at the assessed severity, drugs and alcohol were not contributing factors to the disability, and Mou was not a malingerer. Id. at 279, 281.

         While Dr. Chiu explicitly pointed to August 22, 2012 as the onset date for the symptoms, diagnoses, findings, and limitations detailed in her report, Dr. Chiu‘s reports include several statements that indicate at least some symptoms actually began in 2005, around the time the King Library events occurred. For example, in the section of Dr. Chiu‘s medical report devoted to how Mou‘s conditions and/or symptoms impacted her ability to perform work, Dr. Chiu stated that Mou ''stopped working since 2005 as she struggles with symptoms of depression & panic attacks.'' Id. Similarly, as discussed above, Dr. Chiu explained or based many of her medical findings as to the severity of Mou‘s mental impairments on symptoms beginning in 2005.

         c. Dr. Mohammed‘s Medical Expert Testimony

         During the January 21, 2014 supplemental administrative hearing, discussed in more detail in the following section, Dr. Shakil Mohammed testified as an impartial medical expert. See Id . at 102-10. At the outset, Dr. Mohammed explained that he did not directly examine or treat Mou, that he did not know Mou personally, and that his medical conclusions were solely based on his review of the record. Id. at 102-03. Dr. Mohammed concluded that Mou had two medically determinable impairments which met listing criteria-12.04 major depressive disorder and 12.06 panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (''PTSD''). Id. at 103. In coming to this conclusion, Dr. Mohammed emphasized the significance of the medical findings contained within Dr. Chiu‘s medical source statement (Exhibit 5F, id. at 277-81), Dr. Chiu‘s treatment notes (Exhibit 6F, id. at 282-311), and Dr. Leith‘s consultative psychiatrist examination (Exhibit 8F, id. at 330-42). Id. at 104. Dr. Mohammed also indicated that, while Dr. Chiu found marked limitations to social functioning and daily living, Dr. Mohammed‘s own opinion is moderate to marked limitations in these areas. Id. Dr. Mohammed also saw ''no particular social decompensation'' in Mou. Id. Dr. Mohammed did not explain his basis for differing from Dr. Chiu‘s own impressions of marked limitations in these areas or how his assessment of moderate to marked limitations satisfies the statutory Paragraph B criteria. Id. at 104-05.

         Following this testimony, the ALJ questioned Dr. Mohammed on his basis for his opinions given that there are no mental health records between that provided by Dr. Leith in 2007 and those provided by Dr. Chiu in 2012. Id. at 105. The ALJ‘s concerns with this gap in medical evidence are apparent from her questioning of Dr. Mohammed:

So we would need to have some information, would we not, in order to determine what her condition was? I mean if it was six months apart or a year or less, I can see a connection between the two. But five years is kind of a long time. So people‘s conditions can change over time. So wouldn‘t we need to know what she was doing during those five years?

Id. at 106. Dr. Mohammed responded by stating Dr. Leith‘s records from 2007 indicate that Mou was unable to work at the time and that she had developed PTSD and a panic disorder after the incident in 2005. Id. at 107-08. The ALJ rebutted, ''[b]ut how do we know what her condition was like and what she was doing and not doing and what she was able to do and not able to do if there are no records for that five-year period?'' Id. at 108. Dr. Mohammed reiterated his conclusions regarding PTSD and the panic disorder, as well as that it is his opinion ''that with those two diagnoses and what was going on, that she really couldn‘t work, '' but conceded that he did not ''have any documents'' regarding the intervening period. Id.

         Mou‘s attorney briefly questioned Dr. Mohammed at the hearing, asking him whether the symptoms described in medical reports from Dr. Leith in 2007 were similar to those noted by Dr. Chiu in 2012. Id. at 107-08. Dr. Mohammed mentioned that Dr. Chiu described in detail indications of social isolation in Mou that were not included in Dr. Leith‘s statement from 2007. Id. at 108. Mou‘s attorney then asked whether it would be consistent with PTSD to have difficulty seeking help in the form of psychiatric treatment to which Dr. Mohammed responded, ''Not necessarily. It depends on the person.'' Id.

         d. Dr. Yeh‘s Medical Notes

         The record includes little medical evidence relating to Mou‘s mental and emotional struggles beyond the statements by Dr. Leith, Dr. Chiu, and Dr. Mohammed. In medical records from Mou‘s treating physician, Dr. George Yeh, dated between June 2006 and August 2013, Dr. Yeh mentions virtually nothing in his notes regarding mental or emotional issues affecting Mou. See Id . at 258-68, 313-329. Dr. Yeh‘s medical notes largely focus on Mou‘s physical symptoms or lack thereof between 2006 and 2013, which Mou‘s present motion does not contend give rise to a finding disability. See generally Id . at 312-29. Dr. Yeh does note, however, that Mou exhibited heightened stress on January 25, 2007, id. at 328, that Mou was not active, not sleeping well, and depressed on July 17, 2008, id. at 260, and that he provided prescriptions to Mou for the antidepressant Paxil in July 2008 and later between October 2012 and August 2013, id. at 260, 322-23.

         C. The Administrative Hearings

         1. The October 10, 2013 Hearing

         On October 7, 2013, Mou filed a pre-hearing brief for the October 10, 2013 administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Frederick C. Michaud. See Id . at 239-44. In this brief, Mou claimed that she was severely impaired by PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder warranting a finding of disability under the five-step analysis used pursuant to the Social Security Act, with an onset date of December 10, 2005. Id. at 240. Under this analysis, Mou claimed that because she was not engaged in substantial gainful activity after her onset date, because she was severely impaired, and because she was unable to perform work, Mou‘s impairments should be deemed disabilities under the Social Security Act. Id. at 241-44. In her pre-hearing brief, Mou notably contended she did not have any impairment or combinations of impairments equal to or exceeding statutory definitions under step three of the five-step analysis. Id. at 242.

         At the October 10, 2013 administrative hearing, Judge Michaud questioned Mou and her attorney, Ashley Meyers, regarding Mou‘s disability claim. Id. at 128-35. Judge Michaud began his examination of Mou by establishing her education and work history. Mou explained that she had obtained a master‘s degree in computer systems but she had not worked since 2005. Id. at 131. Mou explained that her most recent work experience was as a system or business analyst. Id.

         During the hearing, Judge Michaud indicated he was underwhelmed by the relevancy of Mou‘s medical records from Dr. Yeh submitted to the Court for the proceeding. Id. Meyers opined that Yeh‘s records were mostly useful in that they indicate Yeh prescribed Paxil, an anti-depressant, for Mou on July 18, 2008. Id. Meyers also revealed there were psychiatric evaluations made for Mou in anticipation of Mou‘s prior civil rights lawsuit that had not been previously introduced in the administrative proceedings. Id. at 131-32. Judge Michaud agreed with Meyers that the hearing should be rescheduled for a later date to allow for the submission and consideration of these psychiatric evaluations, thus concluding the October 10, 2013 hearing. Id. at 132-34.

         2. The January 21, 2014 Hearing

         Following the October 10, 2013 hearing, a supplemental hearing was set for January 21, 2014. The January 21, 2014 hearing was originally to be heard by Judge Michaud, but later was reassigned to Administrative Law Judge Brenton L. Rogozen due to a scheduling conflict. See Id . at 254. On January 15, 2014, Mou submitted a pre-hearing brief attaching Dr. Leith‘s psychological assessment as an exhibit for the supplemental hearing. Id. at 251. In this briefing, Mou claimed the Dr. Leith‘s medical opinions were consistent Dr. Chiu‘s opinions, reflecting a consistency in the severity and presence of PTSD and depression symptoms in Mou since the alleged onset date. Id. at 252. Mou submitted an additional pre-hearing brief on January 21, 2014, objecting to the last minute reassignment of the matter to Judge Rogozen and requesting a postponement of the hearing to a future date with a reassignment of the case back to Judge Michaud. Id. at 254.

         At the January 21, 2014 supplemental hearing, the ALJ, Judge Rogozen, began the hearing despite Mou‘s objections to the last minute reassignment of the matter to him. At the hearing, Mou, Dr. Mohammed (the medical expert), and Kenneth Ferra[3] (a vocational expert) provided testimony related to Mou‘s disability claims. See generally Id . at 98-127.

         Meyers and the ALJ questioned Dr. Mohammed in his capacity as a medical expert. Id. at 102-10. Dr. Mohammed had not previously met with or discussed the matter with Mou and based his analysis and medical opinions solely on his review of the record. Id. at 102. As discussed above in greater detail, Dr. Mohammed concluded that Mou had depression meeting the criteria of Listing 12.04 and anxiety meeting the criteria of Listing 12.06 as supported by his review of the record. Id. at 103. Dr. Mohammed also stated that in light of the medical opinions by Dr. Chiu and Dr. Leith regarding Mou‘s mental state in 2005, his opinion was ''that with those two diagnoses and what was going on, that she really couldn‘t work.'' Id. at 108.

         Meyers and the ALJ asked Mou to discuss her own impressions of her emotional state immediately following the King Library events. Id. at 111-120. Mou stated she would cry constantly for a period of about two years following the King Library events and that her divorce was a direct result of the events and her subsequent reaction. Id. at 111-13. According to Mou:

I spend at least two years crying at home all day long because I have to went [sic] through all this. And I could not function, my brain could not function. I could not do anything. I could not eat properly, I could not cook, I could not even face myself. I have to go to Salvation Army to eat. I used to cook. I used to cook a lot. But I lost it. I could not do anything. I just cry all day long.

Id. at 112. Mou explained that despite her constant emotional turmoil resulting from the events, she did not see a psychiatrist around the time of the King Library events due to her ex-husband‘s general refusal to take Mou to a psychiatrist and the Chinese cultural belief ''that unless that person went over 100 percent crazy it‘s really not [sic] to see the psychiatrist.'' Id. at 113. Mou eventually started seeing Dr. Chiu in 2012 because ...


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