Retired NFL star Michael Oher, whose supposed adoption out of grinding poverty by a wealthy, white family was immortalized in the 2009 movie “The Blind Side,” petitioned a Tennessee court Monday with allegations that a central element of the story was a lie concocted by the family to enrich itself at his expense.
The 14-page petition, filed in Shelby County, Tennessee, probate court, alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, who took Oher into their home as a high school student, never adopted him. Instead, less than three months after Oher turned 18 in 2004, the petition says, the couple tricked him into signing a document making them his conservators, which gave them legal authority to make business deals in his name.
The petition further alleges that the Tuohys used their power as conservators to strike a deal that paid them and their two birth children millions of dollars in royalties from an Oscar-winning film that earned more than $300 million, while Oher got nothing for a story “that would not have existed without him.” In the years since, the Tuohys have continued calling the 37-year-old Oher their adopted son and have used that assertion to promote their foundation as well as Leigh Anne Tuohy’s work as an author and motivational speaker.
Steve Farese, a lawyer for the Tuohys, told The Associated Press they will file an answer to the allegations in court but declined to comment further. He was among three attorneys served on behalf of the Tuohys on Monday.
Leigh Anne Tuohy did not immediately respond to an email sent via her personal website.Her husband told The Daily Memphian the conservatorship was done to satisfy the NCAA as Oher considered Tuohy’s alma mater Mississippi for college.
Sean Tuohy said he and his wife would end the conservatorship if that’s what Oher wants.
“We’re devastated,” Tuohy said. “It’s upsetting to think we would make money off any of our children. But we’re going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.”
The movie was nominated for an Oscar, and Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Oher accuses the Tuohys of never taking legal action to assume custody from the Tennessee Department of Human Services before he turned 18. The conservatorship paperwork was filed months after Oher turned 18 in May 2004.
He moved in with the Tuohys just before his senior year of high school and says he was told to call them “Mom” and “Dad.” Oher says in the petition he was encouraged to call the attorney who filed the conservatorship paperwork “Aunt Debbie” Branan.
Oher also alleges the Tuohys had him sign paperwork almost immediately after he moved in as part of the adoption process. Oher says he was “falsely advised” that it would be called a conservatorship because he was already 18 but the intent was adoption.
“At no point did the Tuohys inform Michael that they would have ultimate control of all his contracts, and as a result Michael did not understand that if the Conservatorship was granted, he was signing away his right to contract for himself,” according to the petition.
A book based on Oher’s life was released in September 2006. The author, Michael Lewis, was described in the petition as a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy’s. The petition alleges Oher’s conservators began contract negotiations for movie rights.
Nearly two years ago, supporters cheered when Britney Spears was freed from her conservatorship. The ruling came after Spears publicly demanded the end of the arrangement, which had prevented her from making her own medical, financial and personal decisions since 2008.
Spears’ high-profile battle put a spotlight on efforts that advocates across the United States have launched raising questions that such strict controls result in more harm than protection.
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