'The Blind Side' Tuohy family responds to Michael Oher's allegations, accuse him of $15M 'shakedown'

The former NFL star claimed the Tuohys never adopted him and have been profiting off him for years.

ByCarson Blackwelder ABCNews logo
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
'Blind Side' family disputes lawsuit allegations
The lawyer for Sarah and Leigh Anne Tuohy released a statement Tuesday denying Michael Oher's claims that the Tuohys lied to Oher about being adopted to make money from the story.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the couple who took in former NFL star Michael Oher, whose inspiring life story was the subject of the 2009 film "The Blind Side," are breaking their silence over Oher's allegations that they have been profiting off him for years.

According to a statement released by the Tuohy's family attorney Martin Singer, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy say they are "heartbroken over these events" and called Oher's claims "outlandish."

"Anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that the outlandish claims made by Michael Oher about the Tuohy family are hurtful and absurd," the statement says. "The idea that the Tuohys have ever sought to profit off Mr. Oher is not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous. Through hard work and good fortune, Sean and Leigh Anne have made an extraordinary amount of money in the restaurant business. The notion that a couple worth hundreds of millions of dollars would connive to withhold a few thousand dollars in profit participation payments from anyone - let alone from someone they loved as a son - defies belief."

"In reality, the Tuohys opened their home to Mr. Oher, offered him structure, support and, most of all, unconditional love," the statement continued. "They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children. His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15 million."

Michael Oher stands with the Tuohys after being drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens (AP Image)

Oher filed a 14-page petition in the probate court of Shelby County, Tennessee, on Aug. 14, in which he alleges that Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy tricked him into signing a Petition for Appointment of Conservators, prepared by Debra Branan, a close friend of the Tuohys, soon after he turned 18 in 2004.

Oher's petition claims that the Tuohys told him that "because he was over the age of eighteen, that the legal action to adopt Michael would have to be called a 'conservatorship' but it was, for all intents and purposes, an adoption." It adds that Oher "did not understand that if the Conservatorship was granted, he was signing away his right to contract for himself."

In his petition, Oher alleges that the Tuohys have profited off the story of Oher's adoption, which saw them help him finish high school, get into the University of Mississippi, and later get drafted into the NFL, first playing for the Baltimore Ravens and later for the Tennessee Titans and the Carolina Panthers.

"The lie of Michael's adoption is one upon which Co-Conservators Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward, the undersigned Michael Oher," the legal filing reads. "Michael Oher discovered this lie to his chagrin and embarrassment in February of 2023, when he learned that the Conservatorship to which he consented on the basis that doing so would make him a member of the Tuohy family, in fact provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys."

Oher's petition alleges that the four members of the Tuohy family -- including the couple's two biological children, Sean Tuohy Jr. and Collins Tuohy -- received "$225,000.00 plus 2.5% of all future 'Defined Net Proceeds'" when negotiating for the film "The Blind Side," which is based on the 2006 book "The Blind Side: Evolution of the Game" by Michael Lewis, a childhood friend of Sean Tuohy.

"The Blind Side," which starred Quinton Aaron as Oher, was nominated for best picture at the 2010 Academy Awards and won Sandra Bullock the best actress trophy. The film accrued more than $300 million at the worldwide box office, according to The Numbers, but Oher claims in his petition that he received "nothing for his rights to a ... story that would not have existed without him."

In response to Oher's petition, the Tuohy's statement claims that when the Tuohys and Oher were approached about turning Lewis' book into a film, the Tuohys "insisted that any money received be divided equally."

"Over the years, the Tuohys have given Mr. Oher an equal cut of every penny received from 'The Blind Side,'" the statement said. "Even recently, when Mr. Oher started to threaten them about what he would do unless they paid him an eight-figure windfall, and, as part of that shakedown effort refused to cash the small profit checks from the Tuohys, they still deposited Mr. Oher's equal share into a trust account they set up for his son."

"Additionally, in spite of the false allegation in the lawsuit, the Tuohys have always been upfront about how a conservatorship (from which not one penny was received) was established to assist with Mr. Oher's needs, ranging from getting him health insurance and obtaining a driver's license to helping with college admissions," the statement continued. "Should Mr. Oher wish to terminate the conservatorship, either now or at anytime in the future, the Tuohys will never oppose it in any way."

Still, Oher's petition alleges the Tuohys, in acting as Oher's co-conservators, "have committed a breach of their fiduciary duty so gross and appalling that they should be sanctioned by this court by disgorgement of all sums of money received from this motion picture, plus interest from the date of receipt of any payment, and also required to pay appropriate punitive damages to their ward, Michael Oher, as determined by this court."

"Since at least August 2004, Conservators have allowed Michael, specifically, and the public, generally, to believe that Conservators adopted Michael and have used that untruth to gain financial advantages for themselves and the foundations which they own or which they exercise or control," the petition reads. "All monies made in said manner should in all conscience and equity be disgorged and paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher."

The petition seeks to have the conservatorship terminated for the alleged failure of Oher's conservators to meet their legal obligations and adds, "This Conservatorship is unnecessary as Michael Oher is capable of handling his own affairs."

"Petitioner Michael Oher is suffering continuing damages due to the ongoing misuse of his name, image and likeness by the Co-Conservators herein, especially in conjunction with the continuing false claims that they adopted Petitioner at any time," the petition reads, adding that Oher is "entitled to an injunction prohibiting Conservators from using his name, image, and likeness."

Oher, in his petition, is asking the Tuohys for "accounting for all sums of money belonging to their said ward, Michael Oher, and to pay over such sums received by them, or either of them, as aforesaid, which should have been paid over to the said ward, Michael Oher, plus interest from the time of receipt of such sums of money."

Additionally, Oher is asking for Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy to pay him compensatory and punitive damages and to pay all costs and attorney fees Oher incurs during the process "for their misconduct."

"I am disheartened by the revelation shared in the lawsuit today," Oher said in a statement obtained by ABC News. "This is a difficult situation for my family and me. I want to ask everyone to please respect our privacy at this time. For now, I will let the lawsuit speak for itself and will offer no further comment."

Despite the petition, the Tuohy's ended their statement by saying that they "will always care deeply for Mr. Oher."

"They desperately hope that he comes to regret his recent decisions, makes different choices in the future and that they someday can be reconciled with him," the statement said. "In the meantime, however, they will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit."

In response to the Tuohy's statement, Barrett issued a response to the family that said, "we have confidence in our judicial system and in our client Michael Oher."

"We try cases in the courtroom based on facts," the statement said. "We believe that justice will be served in the courtroom, and we hope to get there quickly."