A family whose adoption of a boy who went on to become an NFL star – inspiring an Oscar-winning movie – have responded to his lawsuit against them, denying that they profited off his name.
Former NFL star Michael Oher, 39, claims that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, both 63, never actually adopted him and that three months after his 18th birthday, they got him to sign a document to make the couple his conservators.
He says the movie made about them, The Blind Side, was a fabrication and that the couple who took him in made millions off his name.
Under US law, a conservatorship is a court order that allows someone to become responsible for the financial affairs of a person, usually someone who is unable to oversee them themselves.
In a new development on Thursday, Mr and Ms Tuohy responded to Mr Oher’s lawsuit, saying that while they thought of Mr Oher as a son, they “admit that they never intended to, and in fact never did, take any action to assume legal custody through the Juvenile Court of Shelby County," reports NBC.
“Clearly, the Respondents (The Tuohys) loved the Petitioner and as a result provided him with shelter, food, and clothing and in fact bought him more than one vehicle for his personal use,” the response filing said, according to NBC. “In fact, they have always felt that the Petitioner was like a son and have used that on occasion but not in a legal sense.”
They went on to say that Mr Oher’s claims that he only learned this February that he was under a conservatorship rather than being adopted were “demonstratively false,” due to his 2011 memoir I Beat The Odds alluding to knowing that the Tuohys were his conservators.
The couple claims in the response they became his conservators so he could enrol at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and join the football team. The Tuohys were boosters at the university and, according to the filing, Mr Oher could only attend Ole Miss if he was in some way part of their family.
“Conservatorship was the tool chosen to accomplish this goal,” the filing said.
Mr Oher joined Ole Mis in August 2005 and was granted a football scholarship when he was 19 years old.
The couple added in the filing that they are “ready, willing, and able to terminate the conservatorship by consent at any time.”
The other issue posed by Mr Oher was how the couple profited off his name, especially through the production of the 2009 film The Blind Side, which led to Sandra Bullock, who portrayed Ms Tuohy, winning an Oscar for Best Actress.
Mr Oher claims in his lawsuit that his conservators had made a lot of money off the movie, yet the couple allege that while Mr Oher’s cut was paid to them, they "paid the taxes due on these funds for some period of time but still cut a check for a full share (20%) to Petitioner."
The Tuohys say that they “vehemently deny” they viewed Mr Oher as “a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit,” as Mr Oher alleges in his lawsuit, People reports.
The filing ended with the Tuohys requesting the court deny the financial relief Mr Oher seeks in his petition, says NBC.
Mr Oher has requested that a Shelby County probate court judge end the conservatorship that started in 2004 when he was 18.
“The Tuohys have filed a response within the deadline required by Mike’s petition,” said Don Barrett, attorney for Michael Oher on Thursday, according to NBC. “We look forward to Mike finally getting his day in court, where we are confident that the truth will prevail.”