Unveiling the 'Blind Side' Conservatorship: Beyond Michael Oher's Shadow in the Maze of Legal Realities

Unveiling the 'Blind Side' Conservatorship: Beyond Michael Oher's Shadow in the Maze of Legal Realities

In the legal landscape of Tennessee, bewilderment looms over the Michael Oher conservatorship and the legal saga that unfolded thereafter. On that fateful day, August 9, 2004, a legal maneuver initiated in Hernando, Mississippi, saw a petition filed by a lawyer on behalf of Sean Tuohy and Leigh Anne Tuohy. The couple sought the role of conservators over Michael Oher, the respondent in this perplexing legal drama.

The petition, a seemingly straightforward request for "full co-legal custody, guardianship, and conservatorship" over Oher, took an unusual turn. While the Tuohys aimed to be conservators over Oher's person, granting them decision-making power in healthcare matters, an additional clause surfaced. Oher was to be barred from entering into contracts independently—an extraordinary stipulation considering the assertion in the petition that Oher had "no known physical or psychological disabilities."

Signed by the Tuohys, Oher's mother, and Oher himself, the petition sailed through the legal channels. Three months later, with no additional filings, the judge granted the Tuohys the authority to make all medical decisions for Oher, stripping away his right to enter contracts.

What followed was a perplexing 19-year period where the court seemingly operated in violation of the norms governing conservatorships in Tennessee. No proof of disability was demanded, no requirement for accountings or annual status reports was enforced.

Contrary to the legal tenets of conservatorship in Tennessee, a court is obligated to establish, based on clear and convincing evidence, that the respondent is fully or partially disabled and in need of court assistance. This determination is typically founded, at least in part, on a physician's report.

In a stark departure from this norm, Oher's rights were curtailed without such foundational evidence. The glaring absence of required accountings and status reports further accentuated the irregularity of the situation.

The conservatorship system, meant to be a safeguard, emerged as a devourer of dignity—a truth painfully evident in the aftermath of Britney Spears' ordeal. Rather than seeking mere reform, voices are now calling for the abolition of a system that has proven susceptible to abuse.

Unlike adoption, a route the Tuohys could have taken even after Oher reached 18, conservatorships in Tennessee do not entail a custody or adoption proceeding. Yet, it appears the legal intricacies were sidestepped in Oher's case.

In an unexpected twist, in August 2023, a full 19 years after the conservatorship's inception, Michael Oher himself filed a petition. His aim: to terminate the conservatorship and compel the Tuohys to provide an account—an action that promises to unveil more layers to this legal enigma.

The legal battleground surrounding Michael Oher's conservatorship deepens as the Tuohys enter the fray with a counter-narrative. Their answer, filed in response to Oher's bid to terminate the conservatorship, asserts a perplexing twist in their intentions. According to them, the adoption claim was never communicated to Oher, and their primary motivation was to pave the way for Oher to play football for the University of Mississippi, a plan allegedly thwarted by NCAA recruiting rules.

In the Tuohys' version, referring to Oher as a son was a casual, non-legal expression, and their actions were solely driven by a desire to support his athletic aspirations within the bounds of NCAA regulations. The intricacies of their defense add a layer of complexity to a case already marked by legal irregularities.

A cursory exploration into the Tuohys' background reveals a book on Amazon co-authored by them, titled "In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving." The description of the book links it to the "remarkable couple depicted in 'The Blind Side'" and narrates the "story of Michael Oher and the family who adopted him." The juxtaposition of their legal stance with their literary narrative raises questions about the multifaceted nature of their relationship with Oher and the motives behind their actions.

The recent development in the case comes with the termination of the conservatorship by Judge Kathleen N. Gomes in Memphis at the end of September. However, the judge opted to retain other unresolved issues, including Oher's pursuit of accountings and damages. As the legal saga unfolds, the case presents unsettling aspects, raising concerns about the potential confusion an 18-year-old might face when confronted with legal jargon that blends guardianship and custody with conservatorship.

Furthermore, the Tuohys' apparent gains from the narrative of adopting Oher, both financially and otherwise, add a layer of ambiguity to their motivations. The lawsuit promises to unravel more complexities in the days to come, shedding light on the intersection of legal intricacies and the human elements that make this case not only legally convoluted but ethically troubling. Barbara Moss, founder of Elder Law of Nashville PLC, offers insights into the case, marking the beginning of a discourse that will likely continue to captivate attention as it unfolds in the public eye. This column, originally published in The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., invites readers to ponder the intricacies of a legal drama that transcends mere courtroom proceedings.

In conclusion, the legal odyssey surrounding Michael Oher's conservatorship, intricately interwoven with claims of adoption and NCAA-driven motivations, takes an enigmatic turn with the Tuohys' response. Their assertion that the adoption plan was never communicated to Oher raises questions about the nature of their relationship and the motivations behind pursuing conservatorship.

The narrative gains further complexity as it extends beyond the courtroom to the pages of a book authored by the Tuohys, linking their story to the "remarkable couple depicted in 'The Blind Side'" and the "family who adopted him." This duality invites scrutiny into the multifaceted dynamics at play, blurring the lines between legal defense and the narrative crafted for public consumption.

Judge Kathleen N. Gomes' decision to terminate the conservatorship while retaining other unresolved issues signals a continuation of the legal saga. The case, with its unsettling aspects and potential for confusion, prompts reflection on the intricate intersection of legal proceedings, familial relationships, and financial interests.

As the lawsuit progresses, the spotlight on the Tuohys' actions and their gains from the narrative raises ethical considerations. Barbara Moss's insights underscore the need to scrutinize not only the legal complexities but also the broader implications for individuals entangled in a system that should safeguard their rights.

The column, originating from The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, serves as an invitation to delve deeper into a legal drama that transcends the courtroom, prompting a wider discourse on the complexities of conservatorship, adoption claims, and the intricate dance between legal proceedings and human relationships. The unfolding chapters of this saga promise to reveal more layers to a story that continues to captivate public attention and scrutiny.


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