Shalala v. Whitecotton, 514 U.S. 268, 11 (1995)

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278

SHALALA v. WHITECOTTON

O'Connor, J., concurring

and any limitations Congress sought to impose by including language like "markedly greater disability" and "substantial deterioration of health," are altogether lost.

To the extent possible, we adhere to "the elementary canon of construction that a statute should be interpreted so as not to render one part inoperative." Department of Revenue of Ore. v. ACF Industries, Inc., 510 U. S. 332, 340 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted); Pennsylvania Dept. of Public Welfare v. Davenport, 495 U. S. 552, 562 (1990). The construction adopted by the Court of Appeals contravenes this principle. Our reading gives effect to the "onset" and the "significant aggravation" language while according "first" its commonsense meaning.

Today's decision is quite limited. The Court of Appeals had no occasion to address the Whitecottons' challenges to the Special Master's factual findings with respect to their daughter's condition. We assume, arguendo, the soundness of his conclusions that Margaret Whitecotton suffered a preexisting encephalopathy that was manifested by her prevaccine microcephaly. But this may not be the case, and the Whitecottons of course may challenge these findings as clearly erroneous on remand. The Court of Appeals also did not address the Whitecottons' argument, rejected by the Special Master, that their daughter suffered a significant aggravation of whatever pre-existing condition she may have had as a result of the vaccine. This factual challenge appears to be open as well, as does a challenge to the legal standard used by the Special Master to define "significant aggravation."

We also do not pass on the Secretary's argument that the Court of Appeals misstated petitioner's burden under 42 U. S. C. 300aa-13(a)(1)(B) (1988 ed. and Supp. V) in rebutting a claimant's prima facie case. Given our holding with respect to the claimant's burden, it is speculative at this time whether any effort on our part to evaluate the Court of Appeals' approach to the "facto[r] unrelated" standard will find

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