U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Appeal Over Fish Pedicures

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Jacquelyn Martin/AP

By Daniel Wallis

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the owner a Gilbert, Arizona, spa that ran afoul of Arizona state regulations that barred her from providing pedicures in which clients have their feet nibbled by small fish to remove dead skin.

The high court's action, made without comment by the justices, ends a years-long case over fish pedicures, which have become a popular alternative to exfoliation for some spa-goers in recent years but are banned in some U.S. states for health and safety reasons.

The procedure involves customers placing their feet in a water tank filled with toothless Garra rufa fish, also known as doctor fish, which suck the dead tissue off their feet to leave them feeling softer.

Years of Arguing

Cindy Vong, who has operated a nail salon in the Phoenix suburb since 2006, introduced the treatment in 2008. She imported fish from China and remodeled her business to create a separate fish spa area.

In 2009, Vong was told by the Arizona Board of Cosmetology that the treatment violated the agency's safety standards, and that she could face criminal charges. The board said any tool or equipment used in a pedicure must be stored and disinfected in a specific way, and that she could not disinfect the fish coming in contact with clients' skin.

Later that year, Vong closed the fish spa part of her salon, and the Phoenix-based conservative Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit against the board in state superior court on her behalf. Vong's lawsuit argued that the board had exceeded its statutory authority by unconstitutionally applying regulations to her business and said it should have considered an alternative to banning the practice outright. It also accused the board of violating her constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and the privileges and immunities afforded to everyone to make a living.

After a lengthy legal fight, Judge Margaret Downie, writing for a unanimous panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals, ruled in May 2014 that the board acted within its powers. Downie wrote that the board made a "considered, deliberative decision about whether and how to regulate fish pedicures," and that its action did not put Vong out of business. The state's Supreme Court affirmed that ruling, and so Vong had taken her appeal to the justices of nation's top court.