Shalala v. Whitecotton, 514 U.S. 268, 8 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 268 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

The Court of Appeals sought to shore up the contrary conclusion with two further arguments. As the court read the Act, Congress "expressly made the absence of preexisting injury an element of the prima facie case" for residual seizure disorder (another table injury), 17 F. 3d, at 376; thus, the court reasoned, Congress had implicitly rejected any need to negate the pre-existence of other injuries like encephalopathy. This argument rests on a misreading of the language in question. The statutory notes explaining the table provide that a claimant "may be considered to have suffered a residual seizure disorder if [she] did not suffer a seizure or convulsion unaccompanied by fever or accompanied by a fever of less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit before the first seizure or convulsion after the administration of the vaccine involved . . . ." 300aa-14(b)(2). But this is not the language that requires a claimant alleging a seizure disorder to demonstrate the absence of pre-existing symptoms. This provision specifies instead that certain types of seizures (those accompanied by a high fever) may not be considered symptoms of residual seizure disorder, and, so, do not preclude a prima facie case even when a claimant suffered them before vaccination. The language carries no implication about a claimant's burden generally and does nothing to undermine Congress's global provision that a claimant who has actually suffered symptoms of a listed injury before vaccination cannot make out a prima facie case of the injury's onset after vaccination.

Finally, we cannot accept the Court of Appeals's argument that because the causal "factors unrelated" on which the Secretary may rely to defeat a prima facie case can include occurrences before vaccination, see 300aa-13(a)(2)(B), such occurrences cannot bar the establishment of a prima facie case in the first instance. The "factors unrelated" provision is wholly independent of the first-symptom and onset provisions, serving the distinct purpose of allowing the Secretary to defeat a claim even when an injury has not manifested


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