BRET KREIZENBECK AND SANDRA KREIZENBECK, AS LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES OF A MINOR CHILD, C.J.K., Petitioners-Appellants
SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Respondent-Appellee
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
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.
Reyna, Hughes, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 ...