GILBERT, AZ - A judge has rejected an Arizona salon owner's claims that her constitutional rights were violated when cosmetology regulators forced her to stop offering pedicures that use fish to nibble the dead skin off people's feet.
Cindy Vong had opened a fish spa within her nail salon in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert during October 2008 but was forced to close that part of her business nearly a year later. The closure was prompted by a conclusion by the state's Board of Cosmetology that the practice was illegal because the fish were an unsafe tool for skin exfoliation that couldn't be sanitized in between uses.
Vong argued the board violated her due-process and equal-protection rights by not setting up regulations for fish spas, but Maricopa County Superior Court Judge George Foster Jr. said in a ruling Friday that the salon owner never showed the state had such an obligation.
Foster said the state wasn't prohibiting Vong from operating a business but rather banned her fish pedicure operation that was an auxiliary to her salon.
"Simply put, there is no fundamental constitutional right to conducting pedicures by using fish as the implement of removal," Foster wrote.
The judge denied Vong's requests for a declaration saying the board violated her rights and said regulators had a legitimate health and safety concern in dealing with Vong's fish pedicures.
Fish pedicures are popular in Asia and spread to some U.S. cities in recent years. But Texas, Washington, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have outlawed the practice because of health concerns.
Vong, who wasn't seeking monetary damages, maintained that the practice posed no health risks, prompted no complaints from clients and that the treatments, which cost $30 for 20 minutes, were popular and profitable.
Her lawsuit had said she spent $40,000 setting up her spa fish operation, including the purchase of tiny Garra Rufa fish from China. The salon owner had said she lost that investment and had to fire employees after regulators forced her to close the fish spa operation.
An attorney for the cosmetology board had argued regulators properly applied the same rules to fish pedicures as they do to other facets of cosmetology, such as scissors that must be disinfected after a customer's haircut, and that the fish carry the risk of disease.
Rob Kramer, a spokesman for the Goldwater Institute, the Arizona-based libertarian-leaning advocacy organization that pressed Vong's case in court, said the group hasn't decided whether it will appeal Foster's ruling.