The adoption lie that was adapted into film and became a conservatorship case

The adoption lie that was adapted into film and became a conservatorship case

One of 2009’s best Hollywood releases was The Blind Side, a purportedly based-on-a-true-story flick about a poverty-stricken African American student-athlete who was generously taken in by a white family on his way to making his NFL dream come true. It was a feel-good story that garnered many accolades, including an Oscar Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, both for Sandra Bullock.

Fast forward 14 years later, the subjects of the film would become embroiled in a bitter legal battle alleging that the entire premise of the movie was a lie, and putting an even worse connotation to the phrase “Hollywood Magic.”

Early days

Michael Oher, the main subject of the film, is a former American Football left tackle who played for three NFL teams from 2009 to 2016 and was a member of the Super Bowl-winning 2013 Baltimore Ravens roster. The film’s title is a reference to the position Oher played — a left tackle is primarily responsible for protecting a right-handed quarterback’s “blind side.” Oher showed giftedness in that role, having garnered many accolades as a left tackle for his alma mater Ole Miss (University of Mississippi).

Oher was born to a mother suffering from substance abuse and a father who was frequently incarcerated for various crimes. Oher grew up with 11 siblings in abject poverty in Tennessee, and because of their family conditions, had bounced around schools and was even held back twice due to poor grades. In his freshman year of high school, Oher applied for admission to Briarcrest Christian School, whose football coach Hugh Freeze recognized his potential as a football player. It was in Briarcrest where he began to blossom as a force in the offensive line, becoming rated as the Division II Lineman of the Year and First Team Tennessee All-State in 2003.

The following year, Oher, who was up to then still living in foster care, moved into the home of Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, parents of children who also went to Briarcrest with Oher. The couple claim that they legally adopted him, but in 2023, Oher alleged that the Tuohys — who became the eventual producers of The Blind Side — tricked him into signing a document that made them his conservators. According to Oher, the Tuohys claimed that becoming his conservator was just the same as adopting him.

What is conservatorship?

Conservatorship is a legal arrangement in which a court appoints a person, called a conservator, to manage the financial and personal affairs of another person, called a conservatee, who is unable to do so on their own. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as age, mental incapacity, or physical disability.

If the term sounds familiar, it’s because conservatorship is the same arrangement Britney Spears was put under.

Where it currently stands

While the lawsuit only came about in 2023, some keen eyes have already spotted Oher’s fractured relationship with his “adopters” as early as 2022. Oher married fashion entrepreneur and CEO of the boutique Feminish Collection Tiffany Roy that year, and several netizens pointed out that the Tuohys were conspicuously absent from the wedding photos.

In August 2023, Michael Oher filed a 14-page petition in Shelby County probate court alleging that the Tuohys never legally adopted him, and that in 2004, they tricked him into signing a document making them his conservators. The petition also alleges that the Tuohys abused their power as Oher's conservators to make a deal that paid them and their two biological children millions of dollars in royalties from The Blind Side, which earned over $300 million. Oher, on the other hand, received nothing for a story that would not have existed without him.

In response, Sean Tuohy told a local online news outlet that he was blindsided (heh) by Oher’s allegations, and that they are devastated about being portrayed as people who would make money off their children. As of this writing, the Tuohys still publicly refer to Oher as “their son.”

Oher is asking the court to end the conservatorship that gives his former guardians control over his finances and personal affairs. He is also asking the court to prevent the Tuohys from using his name and image for their own benefit, and to force them to reveal how much money they have made from using his name. Additionally, Oher is seeking his share of the profits from the film, as well as other compensatory and punitive damages.

Family legal cases are rarely simple procedures, so it’s best to partner with attorneys that can provide clear guidance, act as calm and rational intermediaries between the parties, and are experts at putting together a legal strategy that results in favorable outcomes. Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams specializes in providing this level of service. Contact us today for assistance with your case.