Civil litigation defense attorney for Oregon churches and religious schools - Kaempf Law Firm

John Kaempf - Portland Attorney

John Kaempf

Kaempf Law Firm PC
121 S.W. Morrison Street
Suite 1100
Portland, OR 97204

For 25 years, John Kaempf has successfully defended civil litigation in Oregon's state and federal courts. He specializes in defending lawsuits against churches and religious schools, as well as child abuse claims. He has defended dozens of child sex abuse cases against churches and individuals, including some of the largest child abuse cases in the country. He is one of the few defense lawyers in the country who has tried a civil child abuse case to a jury. The case favorably settled after two weeks of trial when the plaintiff refused to testify. John also has expertise in First Amendment free exercise of religion defenses to claims against religious entities.

John is a Cum Laude 1992 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School. He is a lifelong Oregonian and is recognized by his peers as one of The "Best Lawyers in America." He has also been honored as an Oregon "Super Lawyer," which recognizes the top 5% of attorneys, every year the award has been given. In addition, he has an AV Peer Review Rating with Martindale-Hubbell, an award that recognizes the highest level of skill and integrity. His firm is one of the “Best Law Firms in Oregon” as selected by U.S. News & World Report.

John is the author and publisher of Religious Law Update, a newsletter that addresses developments in the law that affect churches, religious schools, and other religious organizations. A link to the Religious Law Update Blog is above.

Before opening his own firm in 2008, John worked for 16 years at one of Oregon's largest civil defense law firms, where he was an equity partner.

Therefore, John combines big firm experience with the responsiveness of a small firm.

Representative Cases

Defending Child Abuse Claims Against Religious Entities

The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment John obtained for his clients in J.S. v. Franciscan Friars of Oregon, 215 Or. App. 500, 170 P.3d 8 (2007), a case involving alleged child abuse by a Catholic priest. The court upheld the trial court's rulings that the defendants were not vicariously liable for the priest's alleged sexual abuse of the plaintiff, and that plaintiff's claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the alleged abuse occurred decades earlier.

In 2017, John succeeded in getting the plaintiff to drop his multi-million dollar child sex abuse lawsuit against a church and an order of priests without being paid any money. This occurred after an investigation revealed that plaintiff’s own brothers and fellow Altar Boys said the allegations were false. The lawsuit was dismissed after John’s clients made it clear to the plaintiff and his attorney that no money would be paid. The case is David Smith v. Province of The Holy Name, Multnomah County Circuit Court case number 16CV05662.

Defending Churches and Religious Schools

John successfully defended a religious high school in a lawsuit where the plaintiffs, a former student and his parents, sued for readmission to the school and sought money damages after the school expelled the student for misconduct The court granted John’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case, holding that it was (1) barred by the First Amendment's Free Exercise of Religion clause; (2) the school’s student handbook granted it the sole discretion to decide disciplinary issues that could not be challenged in court; and (3) the claimed damages were speculative and thus not recoverable. This early dismissal allowed the school to avoid the time, stress, expense, and negative publicity associated with a trial.

John won a case for a Christian high school where a religion teacher it fired for living with her boyfriend in violation of its religious doctrine sued the school, seeking reinstatement to her job and money damages. The court dismissed the case because, as John argued, the Free Exercise of Religion clause of the First Amendment prohibits secular courts from second-guessing these types of faith-based employment decisions.

Professional Activities and Memberships

  • Legal Extern, Honorable Otto R. Skopil, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, fall 1991
  • Oregon Association of Defense Counsel (OADC); Practice Tips Editor, OADC Magazine (2002-2008)
  • Oregon State Bar Association, Litigation Section. Multnomah Bar Association.
  • Oregon State Bar Board of Governors, Uniform Civil Jury Instructions Committee (2004-2005)
  • Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners, Summer 2000
  • In 2001, in order to help defendants facing possible liability for punitive damages in Oregon, John drafted and helped enact an amendment to Oregon Revised Statutes 31.725, which addresses claims for punitive damages. John’s amendment states that when a party moves to amend their pleading to assert a claim for punitive damages, “the court shall deny” the motion “if the party opposing the motion establishes that the timing of the motion to amend prejudices the party's ability to defend against the claim for punitive damages.” John’s amendment further states that “if the court grants the motion, the court may continue the action to allow such discovery as the defendant may require to defend against the claim for punitive damages.”



Bar Admissions

  • Oregon State Bar (admitted 1992)
  • Supreme Court of the United States
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • United States District Court, District of Oregon