Law School Case Brief
Porter v. Sec'y of HHS - 663 F.3d 1242 (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Special masters are expected to consider the credibility of expert witnesses in evaluating petitions for compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program ("Vaccine Act"), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 300aa-1 to 300aa-34. A special master may not cloak the application of an erroneous legal standard in the guise of a credibility determination to shield it from appellate review, but this does not mean that a special master, as the finder of fact in a Vaccine Act case, is prohibited from making credibility determinations regarding expert testimony. Assessments as to the reliability of expert testimony often turn on credibility determinations and finders of fact are entitled and expected to make determinations as to the reliability of the evidence presented to them and, if appropriate, as to the credibility of the persons presenting that evidence.
Petitioner claimants filed separate petitions under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program ("Vaccine Act”), claiming that they developed autoimmune hepatitis ("AIH") after they received hepatitis B vaccinations. A special master held a hearing on the petitions but found that neither claimant was entitled to compensation under the Vaccine Act. The claimants appealed that finding to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and that court found that the master erred because he considered the credibility of the claimants' expert witness when he evaluated the evidence. The claims court relied on the ruling in Andreu v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs, that a special master may not use credibility determinations to reject a claimant's theory of causation.
Did the claims court misapply Andreu v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs in reversing the special master’s deicision?
The court of appeals reversed the claims court's decision. The claims court misinterpreted the court of appeals' decision in Andreu v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. when it found that the special master improperly considered the credibility of the claimants' expert, and the master's determination that the claimants were not entitled to compensation under the Vaccine Act was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of his discretion. Although the master recognized that the claimants' expert was well-qualified, he found that testimony provided by two experts called by the Government was more persuasive, and that testimony showed that there were other explanations for the claimants' conditions.
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