Foot-Feasting Fish Case to Be Heard by Court of Appeals

Goldwater Institute wants nothing more than to protect your right to have hundreds of small fish suck dead skin off of your feet.

Later this week, the Arizona Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear a lawsuit filed by Goldwater on behalf of a Gilbert spa owner told by the state Board of Cosmetology in 2009 that she was no longer permitted to use her feet-feasting fish during pedicures.

"Doctor fish" is a pedicure treatment where people dip their feet in tanks of water that have hundreds of live imported Garra Rufa fish that specialize in sucking the dead skin off of human feet.

Cindy Vong, owner of LaVie Nails and Spa in Gilbert, who at one point provided "doctor fish" treatment, was forced to retire her fleet of fish to a holding tank in the back of her store after the  cosmetology board threatened to revoke the spa's license because it claimed dipping feet into a bucket full of fish violated sanitary codes about cleaning equipment after use.

Vong, at the time, claimed that fish aren't like a pair of tweezers and don't need artificial cleaners after use.

Goldwater Institute took on the case, claiming that the issue is not over sanitation but over other spas and cosmetologists viewing the fish as competition. 

"The Board knows nothing about spa fish therapy, so its reaction is to shut it down," Goldwater's lead attorney Clint Bolick stated when the lawsuit was initially filed. "The Board's action is more about protecting cosmetologists from competition than it is about protecting consumers against anything except wet feet and smooth skin."

Goldwater claims that when Vong had to stop using fish as cosmetologists, she lost a lot of business and was forced to lay off three employees. Goldwater feels that the cosmetology board's threat to Vong "violates Ms. Vong's freedom of enterprise under the state and federal constitutions."

Bolick added, "Some people will view this as a fishy lawsuit. But it affects the economic liberty of every American. Too many small businesses have been destroyed by overzealous regulation. If we have anything to do with it, Cindy Vong's spa fish will not be one of them."

The court is scheduled to hear the case on Wednesday.

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James King
Contact: James King