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Aea v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services

Decided: September 16, 1993.

RICHMOND AEA AND THERESA AEA, PARENTS AND NEXT FRIENDS OF STEPHEN AEA, PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States Claims Court.

Before Newman, Michel, and Schall, Circuit Judges.

Schall

SCHALL, Circuit Judge.

Petitioners, parents and next friends of Stephen Aea, appeal the August 28, 1992 order of the United States Claims Court affirming the May 8, 1992 decision of the special master denying petitioners compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-1 et seq. (1988 & Supp. III 1991) (the "Act").*fn1 We affirm.

Discussion

The Court of Federal Claims may not disturb a special master's decision under the Act unless it is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law." 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-12(e)(2)(B). "This court reviews the Court of Federal Claims determination under this highly deferential standard de novo." Cucuras v. Secretary of the Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 993 F.2d 1525, 1527 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). A decision is arbitrary and capricious if it

relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the [special master], or is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of [the special master's] expertise.

Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983).

On appeal, petitioners' various arguments boil down to the contention that the special master erred in concluding that petitioners had failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence, 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-13(a)(1)(A), that Stephen Aea suffered a table injury, 42 U.S.C. § 300AA-14(a), from his third diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccination. Specifically, petitioners argue that the special master erred in rejecting the testimony of Mrs. Aea and Dr. Thoman, petitioners' expert witness.

The special master concluded that Mrs. Aea's testimony of events which transpired eight to ten years earlier was less credible than the contemporaneous medical records introduced into evidence. The special master found aspects of Mrs. Aea's testimony uncertain, generalized, and unclear. On the other hand, the special master found no indication that the medical records were "incorrect, incomplete, or in any way unreliable."

After reviewing the record on appeal, this court agrees with the Court of Federal Claims that the special master did not err in rejecting the testimony of Mrs. Aea and in relying upon the medical records to determine the onset of Stephen Aea's illness. We have previously recognized that the Act

bars the court or a special master from finding a table injury 'based on the claims of the petitioners alone, unsubstantiated by medical records or by medical opinion.' 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-13(a)(1). Moreover, the Supreme Court counsels that oral testimony in conflict with contemporaneous documentary evidence deserves little weight.

Cucuras, 993 F.2d at 1528 (citations omitted).

Petitioners also argue that the special master erred in rejecting the testimony of Dr. Thoman. According to petitioners, the special master substituted his prejudiced lay opinion for the uncontroverted expert testimony of Dr. Thoman. However, as set forth in the special master's report and in the decision of the Court of Federal Claims, Dr. Thoman's testimony was rejected because it was internally inconsistent, speculative in nature, contradicted by an earlier ...


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