Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy insisted they told former NFL player Michael Oher they never intended to formally adopt him and denied his claim that they used public perception of his supposed adoption for financial gain, in a new court filing.
The new document, filed in Shelby County, Tennessee Probate Court Thursday, Sept. 14, is a paragraph-by-paragraph response to the blockbuster petition Oher filed last month. In that document, Oher revealed that the Tuohys were never actually his adoptive parents but his conservators with legal authority over his business deals. Seeking to end the conservatorship, Oher accused the Tuohys of using the “untruth” of his adoption “to gain financial advantages for themselves and the foundations which they own or which they exercise control.”
While the Tuohys have denied Oher’s claims and characterization of their relationship in the press, the new filing marks their first official response in the courts. And for the most part, the filing rehashes a lot of those recent public statements.
For instance, the Tuohys said they “vehemently deny that they told [Oher] that they intended to legally adopt him.” Instead, they reiterated their claim that they sought out the conservatorship so that Oher could play football at the University of Mississippi (a.k.a. Ole Miss). Sean Tuohy, an Ole Miss alum and athletics “booster,” has said that his ties to the University, combined with the fact that Oher had been living with the Tuohy family, made the NCAA skittish about his attending. Those concerns were eased by Oher becoming part of the family “in some fashion,” as the new filing states, with the conservatorship being chosen as “the tool… to accomplish this goal”
Elsewhere in the new filing, the Tuohys called Oher’s claim that he just learned that he was never adopted “demonstratively false.” They cited Oher’s own 2011 book, I Beat the Odds, saying it “clearly indicates that he was fully aware that the Tuohys were appointed as conservators.” But while the Tuohys did acknowledge that they occasionally referred to Oher as an “adopted son,” they said it was done “in the colloquial sense and they have never intended that reference to be viewed with legal implication.”
The Tuohys also addressed specific claims about money and rights tied to The Blind Side, the Oscar-winning film based on Michael Lewis’ book about Oher. First, the Tuohys denied ever negotiating a contract with the film studio Twentieth Century Fox and stated that “arrangements regarding the movie” were done through Lewis. To that end, they insisted Lewis only paid the family “something less than” $225,000 for the film.
The Tuohys also tried to cast doubt on Oher’s claims regarding a “Life Story Rights Agreement” that appears to bear Oher’s signature and gives away “without payment” his life and image rights to Fox (the document purportedly signs away all rights up until the 2008 NFL draft, though the rights to his life after the draft are non-exclusive). Oher, in his petition, acknowledged the signature on the contract was similar to his own, but insisted that he “at no time ever willingly or knowingly signed this document.”
While Oher does not outright accuse the Tuohys of forging his signature, the Tuohys were compelled to respond in their filing, stating: “The insinuation that Petitioner’s signature was signed by the Tuohys is vehemently denied.” They also claimed they “had nothing to do with Petitioner’s contract regarding the Blind Side,” that Oher was at a family meeting where distribution proceeds from the movie were discussed, and was included when everyone agreed to an “arrangement where each party would get 20% of the proceeds paid.”
Amidst all the claims and counterclaims, however, the Tuohys did formally state that they were “ready and willing” to terminate Oher’s conservatorship. A lawyer for Oher did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.