John Kaempf is a trial lawyer who, for 32 years, has specialized in representing churches and religious schools in Oregon’s courts. He specializes in defending lawsuits against churches and religious schools, as well as child sex abuse claims. He also defends catastrophic personal injury lawsuits for insurers. He has tried over 30 cases to a verdict, a rarity in his generation of civil defense trial attorneys. He has also defended dozens of child sex abuse cases against churches and individuals, including one of the largest child sex abuse cases in the country, which involved over 70 plaintiffs suing a private school. He is one of the few defense lawyers who has tried a civil child sex abuse case to a jury. The case favorably settled after two weeks of trial when the plaintiff’s case did not go well. John has also won many child sex abuse cases through pretrial summary judgment motions based on the statute of limitations and the lack of vicarious liability. He also has expertise in First Amendment free exercise of religion defenses to claims against religious entities.
In 2019, John was honored as one of “America’s Top 100 Civil Defense Litigators.” He has also been selected as one of the “Best Lawyers in America.” His law firm has been honored by U.S. News & World Report as one of the Pacific Northwest’s “Best Law Firms.”
Through pretrial motions, John won lawsuits filed against Jesuit High School, Mt. Angel Abbey, the Franciscan Friars, and the Foursquare Church Therefore, he is on the short list of Oregon civil defense trial attorneys for high exposure “bet the church” cases.
John is a Cum Laude 1992 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School. He is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest. He is recognized by his peers as one of The “Best Lawyers in America,” and one of “America’s Top 100 Attorneys.” He has been honored as a Super Lawyer” 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.
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 nationwide. A link to the Religious Law Update Blog is above.
Before opening his firm in 2008, John worked for 17 years at one of the Pacific Northwest’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.
- Named one of the “Best Lawyers in America” in Civil Litigation Defense from 2011-present
- Kaempf Law Firm PC has been selected as one of “the Best Law Firms in Oregon” by U.S. News & World Report since 2014
- Selected to “Super Lawyers” from 2006-present, every year the award has been given, which is granted to only the top 5% of attorneys
- In 2019, John was awarded the highest possible distinction in the Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent® rating. It is the peer-rated honor awarded to lawyers with the highest level of legal ability and distinguished professional excellence. It is the highest of three awards issued by Martindale-Hubbell® and is largely dependent on an attorney’s peer reviews from judges and other attorneys.
- Given the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by “America’s Top 100 Attorneys” in 2018
- In 2019, John was honored as one of “America’s Top 100 Civil Defense Litigators” for the Pacific Northwest
Defending Child Abuse Claims Against Religious Entities and Individuals
Based on the statute of limitations and the lack of vicarious liability, John got the trial court to dismiss a lawsuit based on alleged child sex abuse by a Catholic priest. He then got the Oregon Court of Appeals to affirm that ruling in Schmidt v. Archdiocese of Portland, 218 Or App 661 (2008).
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 (2007), a case involving alleged child sex 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 the statute of limitations barred the case.
John obtained the pretrial dismissal of a multi-million dollar child sex abuse action filed in Oregon against a major international church and one of its pastors. The trial court ruled that the statute of limitations barred the lawsuit. The case is JMS v. Roberts, Multnomah County Circuit Court case number 0705-05015 (2007).
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 the plaintiff’s 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 Smith v. Province of The Holy Name, Multnomah County Circuit Court case number 16CV05662.
Defending Churches and Religious Schools
In 2013, 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 trial 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.
In 2002, John won a case for a Christian school filed against it by a religion teacher it fired for admittedly having premarital sex in violation of its religious doctrine. The teacher sought instatement to her job and money damages. The court dismissed the case before trial because, as John argued, the Free Exercise of Religion clause of the First Amendment prohibits secular courts from second-guessing faith-based employment decisions.
Defending High Exposure Personal Injury Cases
In Stewart v. Kralman, 240 Or App 510 (2011), a personal injury case where the plaintiff was paralyzed while snowmobiling on the defendant’s property, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment John obtained in the trial court based on Oregon’s recreational purposes immunity statutes. In Andrews v. R.W. Hays Co., 166 Or App 494 (2000), the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment John obtained in the trial court for the defendant in a premises liability action where the plaintiff was severely injured, holding that the defendant was not negligent as a matter of law. In Walden v. Burger King Corp., Clackamas County Circuit Court case number CCV 0303675 (2003), the jury returned a defense verdict in a case where the plaintiff was critically injured on the defendant’s premises, finding that the defendant was not negligent. In Cook v. Philip Morris Inc., 44 Fed Appx 762 (9th Cir 2002), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment John obtained in the District of Oregon federal trial court based on the statute of limitations in a personal injury case where the plaintiff was blinded after a cigarette lighter exploded.
Professional Activities & Memberships
- 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.”