Updated at 4:42 p.m.
On July 6, the Akwa Ibom State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria filed a lawsuit for malicious interference against David Orta, a partner in the Washington office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
But the details of the complaint are unknown. Akwa Ibom moved to file the complaint under seal at the time. On July 13, the court granted a motion to seal the entire case — meaning the record of how the case proceeds or resolves won't be public, and the docket, which was viewable briefly on the court's Web site after the case was filed, now doesn't exist and cannot be accessed by the public.
Orta moved to Quinn Emanuel in May from Arnold & Porter and leads the firm's international arbitration practice in Washington. He declined to comment. According to his firm biography, he's represented clients in international disputes around the world, including in Africa.
The lead attorney for Akwa Ibom, Joseph Hennessey of Beins, Goldberg & Hennessey in Chevy Chase, Md., also declined to comment. Contact information for Akwa Ibom officials wasn't available and a representative of the Embassy of Nigeria could not be reached.
Attorneys familiar with case law and rules surrounding sealed court proceedings say it's rare for a judge to seal an entire case, as opposed to placing certain documents or proceedings under seal but keeping the docket public. On the criminal side, for instance, judges will seal cases involving informants or grand jury proceedings.
Davis Wright Tremaine partner Laura Handman said that because there's a presumption of public access to court proceedings, parties have to meet a high bar if they want a case sealed.
"The judge has to make specific findings and they have to be that essentially that there is a compelling interest in sealing these records and that there's not a narrower way," she said.
Before the docket was sealed, Akwa Ibom filed motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The case was assigned to Judge Anthony Epstein, but it was sealed by Senior Judge Robert Tignor, who hears emergency matters when cases are filed. The order sealing the case is under seal. Tignor, through a court spokeswoman, declined to comment.