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The Blind Side: Further Unveiling of Problematic Conservatorships

By Kate Halligan Aug. 15, 2023

In 2021, conservatorships became a topic of public awareness largely due to pop singer Britney Spears. Now, another prominent public figure has taken legal action to end their own conservatorship.

On August 14, 2023, former NFL star Michael Oher filed a petition to terminate his conservatorship. In his petition, Oher contends that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the couple who were famously portrayed in the 2009 Oscar-winning film The Blind Side, falsely claimed to have adopted him and instead established a conservatorship. Allegedly, the Tuohys capitalized on Oher's identity, generating substantial profits.

In The Blind Side, Michael Oher had his journey showcased in a narrative that revolved around the Tuohy family's support, care, and integration of him into their household. The movie evoked deep emotions and delved into issues like socioeconomic disparity, fractured families, race dynamics, and privilege. It underscored the significance of compassion, acceptance, love, and the concept of family.

However, beneath the inspiring narrative, Oher now asserts that the Tuohys actions and intentions were not as altruistic as portrayed. In the filed petition, Oher alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy tricked him into granting them conservatorship authority shortly after he turned 18, with the conservatorship papers officially filed on August 9, 2004, and the order appointing the conservators of the person granted on December 7, 2004. In its order, the Probate Court made "the determination that Michael was in need of supervision, protection, and assistance and that he should not be able to make contract decision on his own." (Petition to Terminate Conservatorship, For Accounting, and Other Relief, Shelby County Probate Court, Case No. C-010333 at ¶ 18). The Order also enabled the Tuohys to engage in business transactions using Oher's name.

Oher alleges that he signed documents under the impression that they pertained to the adoption process, and that the Tuohys informed him that there was no significant distinction between adoption and entering a conservatorship. However, he discovered in February 2023 that these papers were actually related to the conservatorship, which stripped away certain legal rights from him. Notably, Oher claims that he was never informed by the Tuohys that they would possess ultimate authority over his contracts. Consequently, he did not know that if the conservatorship was granted, he would forfeit his right to contract for himself.

During the conservatorship, the Tuohy's allegedly used their power to negotiate a deal with 20th Century Fox and acquire royalties from The Blind Side. Oher contends that while his signature appears on the contract, he was never provided an explanation of its implications. This contract apparently surrendered Oher's "perpetual, unconditional, and exclusive right… to use and portray [his] name, likeness, voice, appearance, personality, personal experiences, incidents, situations and events based upon or taken from [his] life story." (Petition at ¶ 14).

The filed petition requests the court to terminate the conservatorship and issue an injunction barring the Tuohy family from exploiting Oher's name and likeness. It also seeks a comprehensive accounting of the profits earned by the Tuohys using Oher's identity and for compensation to Oher for his fair share of profits generated during the conservatorship.