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Spa Owner's Fish Pedicure Lawsuit All Washed Up

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 19, 2013 12:57 PM

Arizona's shutdown of a "fish pedicure" spa was lawful, and did not violate the spa owner's constitutional rights, an Arizona court has ruled.

But exactly what are "fish pedicures"? And why did the Arizona Board of Cosmetology find it too fishy for a nail salon in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert?

Just ask Cindy Vong, the manager of La Vie Nails & Spa. Her salon offered a service called "Spa Fish" that would allow tiny fish to nibble off the dead skin on people's feet.

Arizona's Board of Cosmetology concluded that the practice violated regulations, because the fish couldn't be sanitized between treatments. Anything used to remove dead skin from feet must be disinfected to prevent the spread of bacteria and disease, AZFamily.com reports.

Fish pedicures actually aren't new. They've been around Asia for some time. But in the United States, they've been outlawed in several states, as they present some potential health risks.

That's what the Arizona court found, too. While Vong argued that the shutdown was arbitrary and unreasonable, the court didn't agree.

Vong raised constitutional issues in her lawsuit. Since the Board of Cosmetology is an agency of the state, Vong was able to bring claims of alleged due process and equal protection violations.

But even those legal challenges come with certain restrictions.

When actions taken by a state agency are for the purpose of promoting or protecting public health, safety and welfare, those actions will be judged in light of whether they are reasonable.

They must have a rational and substantial relationship to the greater purpose.

And that's essentially what the court found here: that disallowing fish pedicures was rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.

It's a tricky stance for the Board of Cosmetology to take, when the Centers for Disease Control haven't taken an official stance on fish pedicures. The CDC has, however, outlined some overall concerns with fish spas, one being that the fish need to be starved in order to properly perform the pedicures. As some critics have charged, that may constitute animal cruelty.

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