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Phillips v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services

Decided: February 26, 1993.

RANDALL LEE PHILLIPS AND DEBORAH JANE PHILLIPS, PARENTS AND NEXT FRIENDS OF RANDALL LEE PHILLIPS, II, PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appealed from: U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Judge Merow

Before Newman, Mayer, and Plager, Circuit Judges.

Per Curiam

BACKGROUND

This is a vaccine compensation case. Pursuant to the provisions of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (Vaccine Act), 42 U.S.C.A. § 300aa-1 to 300aa-34 (West 1991), Randall Lee Phillips I (the father) and Deborah Jane Phillips (the grandmother) petitioned for compensation for injuries sustained by the infant, Randall Lee II. Petitioners alleged that Randall Lee II suffers from encephalopathy and seizure disorder as a result of Randall Lee II's receipt of the DPT vaccination.*fn1 On January 29, 1992, the special master issued an opinion denying compensation for these injuries. The Court of Federal Claims*fn2 affirmed the special master's decision on April 3, 1992, holding that the special master properly had considered the relevant record evidence, had drawn plausible inferences, and had set forth a rational basis for his decision. We affirm.

Discussion

The procedure under the Vaccine Compensation Act for a petitioner to obtain a decision regarding entitlement to compensation, and for review of that decision, is straightforward. A petitioner who claims compensation under the Act presents his or her case to the special master. The special master serves as the trial forum, takes the evidence, considers the arguments of the petitioner and the Government, and decides whether the evidence establishes that a compensable injury occurred. 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12 (d)(3). That decision is reviewable by petition to the Court of Federal Claims. 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12(e). The assigned Judge of that court reviews the decision of the special master, utilizing the standard of review specified in the Act, a standard highly deferential to the fact determinations of the special master. 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12(e)(2).

The statute allows a further appeal to this court. 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12(f). As we explained at length in Munn v. Secretary of the Dep't of Health and Human Serv., 970 F.2d 863 (Fed. Cir. 1992), we do not then simply redo what has already been done.*fn3 We do not retry the case, as has already been done by the special master; we do not re-review the special master's decision, as has already been done by the Judge of the Court of Federal Claims. The statute mandates that we review the judgment of the Court of Federal Claims in the case. And as we explained in Munn, in a case in which the Court of Federal Claims affirms the special master that means we determine, again under a highly deferential standard with regard to fact issues, whether the Court of Federal Claims erred in its affirmance of the special master's decision.

The only evidence to connect the administration of the DPT with Randall II's encephalopathy was the after-the-fact testimony of the father and grandmother regarding the infant's behavior at the time. The special master's judgment turned on his determination that the testimony of the father and the grandmother was note credible. The special master observed the witnesses, evaluated their demeanor and consistency, and compared the testimony to the record evidence (or lack thereof). He then made the judgment call which he is obligated to make under the Act, and concluded that petitioners had not proven their case.

On petition for review as provided by the Act, that evidentiary call was confirmed by the Court of Federal Claims in accordance with the standard of review mandated by the Vaccine Act -- that the special master's findings of fact and Conclusions of law were not "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12(e)(2)(B). As noted, the special master's judgment turned on his determination that the testimony of the father and the grandmother was not credible; the Court of Federal Claims properly considered such credibility determinations "virtually unreviewable." Applying the deferential standard enunciated in Munn to the judgment of the Court of Federal Claims, we find no error in that judgment.*fn4

The judgment of the Court of Federal Claims is affirmed.

AFFIRMED

Disposition

AFFIRMED

PLAGER, Circuit Judge, ...


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