A Tennessee judge said Friday she is ending a conservatorship agreement between former NFL player Michael Oher and a Memphis couple who took him in when he was in high school, but the highly-publicized dispute over financial issues will continue.
Shelby County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Gomes said she is terminating the agreement reached in 2004 that allowed Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy to control Oher’s finances. Oher signed the agreement when he was 18 and living with the couple as he was being recruited by colleges as a star high school football player. Their story is the subject of the film "The Blind Side," which earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar.
Gomes said she was not dismissing the case. Oher has asked that the Tuohys provide a financial accounting of money that may have come to them as part of the agreement, claiming that they used his name, image and likeness to enrich themselves and lied to him that the agreement meant the Tuohys were adopting him.
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.
Gomes said she was disturbed that such an agreement was ever reached. She said she had never seen in her 43-year career a conservatorship agreement reached with someone who was not disabled.
“I cannot believe it got done,” she said.
Oher and Tuohys listened in by video conference call but did not speak. Lawyers for both parties had agreed that the agreement should end, but the case will continue to address Oher's claims. Gomes said it should have ended long ago.
In August, Oher, 37, filed a 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 wanted the conservatorship to be terminated, a full accounting of the money earned off his name and story 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.
Oher 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.
In a court filing, the affluent couple 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 Tuohys’ 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.”
The Tuohys said the 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 Tuohys’ Sept. 14 court 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 with the Carolina Panthers.
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