MASSILLON -- City officials are scrambling to find a way to keep a hospital here — and every avenue is being explored.

Earlier this week, expected gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich suggested the city seek a restraining order to block the closing and potentially use eminent domain to take control of the property.

Last week, Quroum Health announced it would shutter operations at Affinity Medical Center on Feb. 4 and would proceed to shut down the facility a month later.

Under the law, the city can use eminent domain to take a hospital but Frank Bodor, a Warren attorney who specializes in these cases, warns it is going to take time and could be costly.

He suggests the city exhaust all other possibilities beforetrying to take the hospital through eminent domain.

City Law Director Andrea Scassa acknowledged that exercising eminent domain has been discussed by the city. However, she agreed that course of action would be time consuming and is a larger hurdle to build a case for.

"I don't know if it can be accomplished in (less than) 30 days," she said. "There are more requirements and hoops to jump through."

What is eminent domain?

Established in the U.S. Constitution, eminent domain allows a sovereign authority on the federal, state or local level to take a private property for public use so long as the government pays just compensation, CJ Peters, dean of University of Akron Law School and professor of law, explained.

Peters said many states have additional and potentially stricter laws governing taking a property by eminent domain.

Bodor, who has represented the state as well as the city of Girard and others in eminent domain cases, said Ohio Revised Code sets a formal procedure for appropriation.

The law stipulates a municipal corporation may appropriate, enter upon and hold real estate within its corporate limits for hospitals.

Eminent domain, he said, stems from article 1, section 19 of the Ohio Constitution, which provides that private property shall be held inviolate, but subservient to the public welfare.

"So the question is would a city have the right to appropriate a hospital? They do," Bodor said.

If the city would want to pursue eminent domain, it would require City Council's approval. Then the city would have to have an appraisal of the property to find the fair market value and can make an offer on the property.

If the property owner turns down the offer, the city can proceed with filing the appropriation, Bodor said. It would require the city to put up a deposit equal to the value that it was appraised for.

He said the process for taking a property under eminent domain is complicated and it would behoove the city to get expert advise.

"There are so many factors in it too," he said. "I guess if I was representing the city my argument to the court would be this is appropriate. The community needs this hospital. It's convenient to the public. It serve a purpose for emergency, provides employment for many and it gives doctors a place to practice and it is in the public good for it to be acquired.

"The law is set up that no property can be taken for less then due compensation," he said.

If the property owner would reject an offer, it would be up to a jury to determine the amount that should be paid to acquire the property.

"The hospital (owners) could bring in their own appraiser to determine the fair market value of the property and they can say it is worth $2 million and the city can say it is worth $1 million and the jury will have to decide based on the expert reports the amount the city would have to pay for the property."

On the other hand, he said, if he was arguing for the hospital, officials could say they can't run it profitably and they have the figures to back it up.

While Bodor believes the city has a good chance in court of appropriating the property, officials at Ohio Hospital Association question on what grounds the city would have to use eminent domain.

"We haven't heard of any one doing this in recent years," said John Palmer, a spokesperson for the group. "We just don't see how (eminent domain) would apply in this situation.

Amy Knapp is a reporter at The Independent in Massillon.