Goldwater Institute Sues Cosmetology Board Over Fish That Give Pedicures

The state Board of Cosmetology threatened in April to pull the license of a Gilbert spa because of a treatment the owners were calling "doctor fish."

"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 want nothing more than to suck the dead skin off of a human foot.

Rather than risk having her license yanked, Cindy Vong, owner of LaVie Nails and Spa in Gilbert, retired the fish and sent them off to waste their toe-sucking talents in a holding tank in the back of her store.

The Board of Cosmetology 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 claimed that fish aren't like a pair of tweezers and don't need artificial cleaners after use.

"Fish is nature," she told the Arizona Republic in April. "The fish, they sanitize themselves."

Today, a lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute seeks to have these fishies feasting on feet once again

The Goldwater Institute seems to think that the issue is not over sanitation but rather other spas and cosmetologists viewing the fish as competition.

Imagine that -- not a single day of state-mandated cosmetology school and a few fish are capable of giving a pedicure good enough to make the "pros" nervous.

"The Board knows nothing about spa fish therapy, so its reaction is to shut it down," says Goldwater's lead attorney Clint Bolick. "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."

The Goldwater Institute 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 Board of Cosmetology'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."

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James King
Contact: James King