A Memphis couple who took in former NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher when he was in high school denied in court documents filed Thursday that they used a legal agreement between them to get rich at his expense and lied about intending to adopt him.
Lawyers for Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy filed a response to Oher’s Aug. 14 request for a judge to end a conservatorship signed in 2004 when Oher was an 18-year-old high school football player in Memphis and a prized college recruit. Oher had a troubled childhood and moved in with the Tuohy family, in a story that was the subject of the film “The Blind Side,” which earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Oher, 37, filed his petition in probate court accusing the Tuohys of lying to him by having him sign papers making them his conservators rather than his adoptive parents nearly two decades ago. Oher wants the conservatorship to be terminated, a full accounting of the money earned off his name and story to be done and to be paid what he is due, with interest.
He accused the couple of falsely representing themselves as his adoptive parents, saying he discovered in February the conservatorship agreed to in 2004 was not the arrangement he thought it was – and that it provided him no familial relationship to them. He claims the Tuohys have kept him in the dark about financial dealings related to his name, image and likeness during the 19-year life of the agreement.
The Tuohys have called the claims they enriched themselves at his expense outlandish, hurtful and absurd and part of a “shakedown” by Oher. Lawyers representing the couple also said the Tuohys would enter into a consent order to end the conservatorship.
In Tennessee, a conservatorship removes power from a person to make decisions for themselves, and it is often used in the case of a medical condition or disability.
But Oher’s conservatorship was approved “despite the fact that he was over 18 years old and had no diagnosed physical or psychological disabilities,” his petition said.
In their response, the affluent couple repeated their willingness to end the conservatorship. They said they loved Oher like a son and provided him with food, shelter, clothing and cars while he lived with them, but denied saying they intended to legally adopt him.
The Tuoys’ filing said Oher referred to them as “mom” and dad,” and they occasionally referred to Oher as a son. They acknowledged that websites show them referring to Oher as an adopted son, but the term was only used “in the colloquial sense and they have never intended that reference to be viewed with legal implication.”
“They vehemently deny that they saw the Petitioner as a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit,” the Tuohys’ filing states.
The Tuohys said they conservatorship was the tool chosen to comply with NCAA rules that would have kept Oher from attending the University of Mississippi, where Sean Tuohy had been a standout basketball player.
“When it became clear that the Petitioner could not consider going to the University of Mississippi (”Ole Miss”) as a result of living with the Respondents, the NCAA made it clear that he could attend Ole Miss if he was part of the Tuohy family in some fashion,” the filing said.
The Tuohys also said Oher lied about finding out that he was not adopted in February. They said Oher’s 2011 book “I Beat the Odds” indicates that he was fully aware that the Tuohys were appointed as conservators.
Agents negotiated a small advance for the Tuohys from the production company for “The Blind Side,” based on a book written by Sean Tuohy’s friend Michael Lewis, the couple’s lawyers have said. That included “a tiny percentage of net profits” divided equally among a group that included Oher, they said.
The attorneys said they estimated each of the Tuohys and Oher received $100,000 apiece, and the couple paid taxes on Oher’s portion for him.
The Tuohys’ filing said they never signed any pro football contracts for Oher, and he was happy with their financial arrangements from “The Blind Side.”
Oher was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, where he won a Super Bowl. He played 110 games over eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career in Carolina.