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Kreizenbeck v. Secretary of Health And Human Services

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

January 6, 2020


          Appeal from the United States Court of Federal Claims in No. 1:08-vv-00209-RHH, Senior Judge Robert H. Hodges, Jr.

          Richard Gage, Richard Gage, PC, Cheyenne, WY, argued for petitioners-appellants.

          Julia Collison, Vaccine/Torts Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for respondent-appellee. Also represented by Joseph H. Hunt, Alexis B. Babcock, C. Salvatore D'Alessio, Catharine E. Reeves.

          Before Reyna, Hughes, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.

          Reyna, Circuit Judge.

         Bret and Sandra Kreizenbeck appeal a decision of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that affirmed a special master's decision denying the Kreizenbecks compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Act. On appeal, the Kreizenbecks raise a single procedural issue: whether the special master abused his discretion by resolving their case through a ruling on the record, without conducting an evidentiary hearing and without the Kreizenbecks' consent. Because we find no abuse of discretion, we affirm.


         On March 26, 2008, Bret and Sandra Kreizenbeck filed a petition on behalf of their minor son, C.J.K., for compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Act, 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-1-34 ("the Vaccine Act"). After raising several different causation theories in an amended petition and other filings, the Kreizenbecks ultimately alleged that vaccinations administered to C.J.K. in 2005 aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder and caused C.J.K. to suffer immune system dysfunction and other medical problems. The Secretary of Health and Human Services ("the Secretary") contested the Kreizenbecks' claims. A Special Master presided over the case.

         In support of their petition, the Kreizenbecks submitted considerable evidence, including more than 1, 500 pages of medical records, medical literature, an affidavit from Mrs. Kreizenbeck, and reports from three medical experts. In response, the Secretary submitted reports from three medical and scientific experts. After the Special Master scheduled an entitlement hearing, both parties filed pre-hearing briefs, and the Secretary moved to dismiss the case on the record.

         The Special Master held a status conference on October 4, 2017, to determine whether a ruling on the record was appropriate. After reviewing the record evidence and the parties' briefing, the Special Master determined that "a ruling on the papers was preferable to a hearing as the most efficient means for resolving the case." J.A. 29. The Special Master also expressed "serious misgivings about the claims' substantive validity," and explained that if the parties proceeded to a hearing, he was unlikely to compensate the Kreizenbecks for the associated costs. J.A. 29. The Kreizenbecks chose to "forgo their hearing" after determining that they would be unable to absorb those costs. J.A. 124. Nonetheless, they expressly objected to a ruling on the record. Id.

         The Special Master allowed the parties to submit a final brief in support of their position. After reviewing each party's final briefing, the Special Master determined that the matter was "ripe for resolution" because "nothing in the record and expert reports offered in this case suggests that this matter's outcome would be any different after a hearing." J.A. 25, 55.

         In a thorough, 50-page opinion, the Special Master concluded that the Kreizenbecks failed to establish entitlement to compensation. He found no evidence supporting the claims that C.J.K. had an underlying mitochondrial dysfunction or that C.J.K. was injured from a vaccine. He found the Secretary's mitochondrial expert "reliable and persuasive," and found the Kreizenbecks' medical expert reports "self-evidently conclusory or unsubstantiated." J.A. 54. He also found the "short affidavit" from Mrs. Kreizenbeck uncorroborated and inconsistent with the medical records. J.A. 54-55. As a result, he entered a ruling on the record dismissing the case.

         The Kreizenbecks sought review at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ("Claims Court"). The Kreizenbecks did not dispute the substance of the Special Master's decision. Instead, they challenged only his decision to dismiss their petition on the written record. The Claims Court affirmed the Special Master's decision, citing the "wide discretion" afforded to special masters when determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing. J.A. 4-5. The Claims Court found that the Special Master "gave [the Kreizenbecks] ample opportunity to support their claims with written evidence and briefs." J.A. 4. The Court also found that the parties had submitted "a plethora of information." Id. The Claims ...

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