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Protecting small fish from a big bureaucracy

November 5, 2014

I don’t know what tiny Garra Rufa fish eat in their native Asian habitats; but when they see a skin callus, they go crazy. I guess there’s no accounting for taste in the fish world. Just as there’s no accounting for reason in the world of government bureaucrats.

Cindy Vong, the owner of a Gilbert nail salon who as a girl escaped communist oppression in Vietnam, learned about the Garra Rufa fish and their penchant for providing a relaxing experience while removing rough skin with their toothless little mouths. Following the lead of entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere in the U.S., Mrs. Vong added “spa fish” therapy to her salon, investing thousands of dollars in fish and equipment and creating a thoroughly hygienic process.

The business was a success, attracting customers across hundreds of miles and allowing Mrs. Vong to bring on extra staff. But this was all too much for the Arizona Board of Cosmetology, which knows nothing about spa fish therapy and therefore ordered Mrs. Vong to close the business.

Represented by the Goldwater Institute, Mrs. Vong challenged that decision, claiming that the board has no jurisdiction over fish and that its actions violated her constitutional right to earn a living. The trial court dismissed her lawsuit, holding that Mrs. Vong should have pursued relief through the cosmetology board—the very board that shut her down.

Last Friday, the Arizona Court of Appeals reinstated Mrs. Vong’s lawsuit. The cosmetology board does have jurisdiction over spa fish therapy, the appeals court ruled, but Mrs. Vong deserves her day in court to prove the board’s actions are irrational and excessive.

Have you ever wondered how it came to be that in a nation committed to opportunity and freedom of enterprise, bureaucrats can run roughshod over entrepreneurs like Cindy Vong? It would take an entire book to answer that question—specifically the one I just published, “Death Grip: Loosening the Law’s Stranglehold Over Economic Liberty.” I hope you’ll join us for a book forum on Thursday, May 12, at 11:30 a.m. to explore this important topic.

Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

Learn More:

Goldwater Institute: Vong v. Aune

Arizona Daily Star: Pedicure by fish gets day in court



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